Chapter 8: Thinking, Communicating & Problem-Solving

Communicating & Working with Others

What do you look for in a listener?

Think about the last time you really felt listened to.

  • What did the listener do or say that made you feel heard?
  • What helps the listening process?
  • What hinders it?

In today’s work world the norm is to collaborate with others and complete tasks by partnering with peers, teams, committees, or work groups. It’s very rare to work in isolation at work, which is why group work is assigned in college classrooms. One of the most important responsibilities we have in college and in life is to learn how to communicate and work with others.

Non-Verbal Communication

When we think about listening, we think about hearing sounds via the ears. However, in order to pick up key points for effective communication and note-taking, it takes more than just hearing. In this case, it takes a “critical ear” to absorb key points. By noticing not only the words spoken, but also the tones, volume and even the speaker’s body language, we can improve our communication skills and take better notes. Being an active listener increases a note-taker’s chances of getting all of the information needed.

Common non-verbal communication

List as many non-verbal, emotional cues as you can by studying the faces in the pictures below.

Seven photos of the same person with different expressions:. Clockwise from top left: smile, sad, half-smile, surprised, pouting, disgusted, horrified.
“Universal Emotions” by Icerko Lýdia is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Active Listening

In addition to noting non-verbal cues, active listening is another key to learning effectively and communicating with professors and fellow students. There are concrete steps we can take to actively listen in order to get the most out of lectures. Active listening is also useful when working with a partner or group. Here are some important ways we can listen more actively:

  1. Pay attention: Look at the speaker and clear your mind of your thoughts to focus on what the speaker is saying. Ignore distractions and note the speaker’s body language in addition to what is being said.
  2. Show you are listening: Use your body language by nodding your head, smiling, and creating an open posture to let the speaker know you are listening.
  3. Provide feedback: Ask questions to clarify what the speaker is saying. Repeat what they say back to them in your own words so you both know you understood. From time to time, summarize what they’re saying.
  4. Label your perception of the speaker’s emotions: Instead of telling people how they are feeling, use phrases like “You sound like you’re” or “I hear” to process with them how they sound to you.
  5. Defer judgment: Avoid interrupting the speaker to offer your side or position and wait until they have finished making a point to ask questions.
  6. Use “I” Messages: Using “I” messages lets the speaker know how they are making you feel. “I” messages are helpful in intense conversation because they are not threatening and won’t put the speaker on the defensive.
  7. React appropriately: Be honest in your response and sharing your opinion, while treating the speaker the way you would want to be treated.
  8. Pause Purposefully: Use silence for time to think or write before or after an important point.

How to listen better

Watch the 7-minute TED talk 5 ways to listen better and answer the following questions:

  1. What 3 types of listening does the speaker discuss?
  2. How and why have we been “losing our ability to listen,” as the speaker suggests? He cites 5 ways.
  3. What are the 5 tools we can use to listen better?
  4. What is RASA?
  5. Taking into consideration the answers to 1-4, write a reflection on how you can use the information on non-verbal and listening skills to enhance both your ability to pay attention to lectures and to take better notes on them.



When we explore relationships between people and groups of people, interdependence may well be one of the most meaningful words because it speaks to the importance of connecting with others and maintaining viable relationships. If we think about it, no one makes it through life alone.

Interdependence is defined as the mutual reliance, or mutual dependence, between two or more people or groups. “In an interdependent relationship, participants may be emotionally, economically, ecologically, and/or morally reliant on and responsible to each other.”[1]

An interdependent relationship is different from dependent and codependent relationships, though. In dependent relationships, some members are dependent while some are not (dependent people believe that they may not be able to achieve goals on their own). In codependent relationships, there is a sense that one must help others achieve their goals before pursuing one’s own. Contrast these relationships with interdependent relationships, in which support and knowledge are shared for the enrichment of all.

Interdependence in College

Interdependence is valuable in college because it contributes to your success as a student. When you feel comfortable with interdependence, for example, you may be more likely to ask a friend to help you with a class project. You may also be more likely to offer that same help to someone else. You may be more inclined to visit a faculty member during office hours, attend the tutoring center for help with a difficult subject, or visit the career or counseling center.

Overall, when you have a sense of interdependence, you cultivate support networks for yourself, and you help others, too. Interdependence is a win-win relationship. The following table illustrates how interdependence can play a role in successful college life:

Interdependence Struggle Mode Interdependence Success Mode
Students in struggle mode maintain a stance of dependence, co-dependence, or perhaps dogged independence, but not interdependence. Students in success mode develop relationships that support themselves and support other people, too.
Students in struggle mode may avoid cooperating with others in situations where the common good could be achieved. Students in success mode develop networks of friends, family members, professionals, and others as a support team.
Students in struggle mode may be reluctant to listen compassionately or attempt to understand the perspective of another person. Students in success mode actively and compassionately listen to others as an action of support; they demonstrate care and concern.

Collaboration with Peers

Most college students will be required to work in groups in various classes, and many workplace tasks are accomplished through committee work. Although not without challenges, collaborating with others is a necessary life skill that has many benefits.

Studying with fellow classmates and/or working with them on projects and class assignments can significantly enhance deep learning. Group work can help teams chunk bigger tasks into more manageable parts and steps. It can also help participants manage their time better. In addition, group work often involves discussion and collaboration, which can improve everyone’s understanding of the material. Another benefit is the opportunity for feedback on ideas and performance. Working in groups always helps members develop stronger communication skills, both for speaking and for listening.

Getting the most out of working in a group, though, requires some special skills. The following video, Group Work, from the University of British Columbia, offers some pointers.

Below is a summary of the key points in the video:

  • Know your strengths and learn what others can bring to the table. Consider these strengths when assigning roles or project tasks.
  • First meetings are key to setting a good tone. Plan enough time to:
    • Learn people’s goals for the group
    • Learn people’s strengths
    • Assign roles
    • Set up a meeting schedule
    • Review the tools you will need to support your work (Google docs, Wiki page, etc.)
  • Be clear about everyone’s goals so that the group has a clear idea of what people expect to get from the group study process. Goals are important to motivation.
  • Get everyone working
    • Assign tasks that play to individual strengths
    • Assign a progress-checker role to follow up on progress
    • Use meetings to review progress and provide guidance and support where needed.
    • Choose a good online tool to help you collect and respond to one another’s ideas and questions between meetings.
  • Conflict is natural and can be necessary to achieve collaboration. Learn to manage it.
    • Develop effective communication skills.
    • Work toward mutual understanding.
    • Keep group interests at the forefront.
    • Be flexible in looking for solutions.
    • Make sure solutions work for everyone.

Active listening

  • Discuss in groups of three what active listening is, what it is not, and review active listening techniques.
  • Decide who will be the active listener, who will be the character in the scenario, and who will be the observer as you work through the scenarios below.
  • The role player should take a minute to get into character and not just read off the scenario. The active listener should engage in as many active listening techniques as possible while the observer notes if the active listener is effectively using active listening techniques or not.
  • Switch roles until everyone in the group has had an opportunity to be the active listener, the role player, and the observer.
  • After your group debriefs, be prepared to share key takeaways from this activity with the entire class.

Active Listening Scenario #1: You are in a study group, but you feel like it is a waste of time. You are spending additional time studying to be sure you will pass the tests. You are trying to decide if you should stay or leave the study group and if you leave how you should tell the other group members.

Active Listening Scenario #2: You feel like you aren’t clear on your course grade in your math class. It seems like you have done fairly well on the tests, but when your professor handed out midterm grades, you were shocked at how low yours was. You are trying to decide if you should talk to your professor. If you decide you want to talk to your professor, you are not sure what you will say.

Active Listening Scenario #3: You are upset with the way you were treated at the tutoring center. You don’t feel like you were able to get the help you needed and you still feel stuck on your paper.

Active Listening Scenario #4: Choose an issue you are facing to use instead of one of the role-play scenarios above.



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