7.5.0: Communication Competence

In this section, we will cover techniques for better listening, address cultural and co-co-cultural influences on our listening, and discuss the importance of listening in our relationships.


7.5.1: Effective Communication: Paraphrasing

One way to help you become a more effective listener is to paraphrase what the other person is saying. When you paraphrase information, you rephrase the message into your own words. Paraphrasing is a useful communication skill for a variety of reasons. It helps verify your understanding of the speaker’s message which aids in creating shared meaning, forces you to actively listen to others, and likewise demonstrates that you are listening. We can paraphrase in three different ways: by rephrasing and reflecting back the content/denotative meaning of the message, the feelings behind the message, or both.

To paraphrase you need to:

  1. Listen to what the speaker is saying
  2. Pay attention to the speaker’s nonverbal cues and the emotion(s) you think they are conveying
  3. Determine what both the verbal and nonverbal message(s) mean to you
  4. Rephrase the meaning verbal and/or nonverbal message in your own words

Avoid stating your paraphrase like a fact or putting words in the speaker’s mouth. Instead, use a questioning tone of voice and a lead-in statement. For example, you might say the following to start off a paraphrased response: “What I heard you say was…” or “It seems like you’re saying…” You can also ask clarifying questions to get more information. It is often a good idea to pair a paraphrase with a question to keep a conversation flowing. For example, you might pose the following paraphrase and question pair: “It seems like you believe you were treated unfairly. Is that right?” Or you might ask a standalone question like “What did your boss do that made you think he was ‘playing favorites?’” Make sure to paraphrase and/or ask questions after a person’s turn is over, because interrupting can also be interpreted as a sign of not listening. Paraphrasing is also a good tool to use in computer-mediated communication, especially since miscommunication can occur due to a lack of nonverbal and other contextual cues.

Paraphrasing Example:

Other’s Message: “So I’ve been working hard on revising my English paper. I spent an entire week working on it and thought the changes I made really improved my explanations.  Well, yesterday I stopped by and got the paper back from my professor, they told me they didn’t really see much of an improvement from the original version.”

Content Paraphrase

Feelings Paraphrase

Combination Paraphrase

“So it sounds like thought you had provided more depth and detail to your explanations, but your professor didn’t notice?”

“You seem really frustrated that your professor didn’t notice the changes you made?”

“So your professor told you that they didn’t notice the work you had done? No wonder you sound so frustrated!”


7.5.2: Contextual Communication: Cultural and Co-cultural Influence on Listening

Understanding some contextual variations in listening can help us become more competent communicators. In particular, contextual nuances due to culture and co-culture can influence the importance placed on listening and how people listen.


  • Listening and Culture:

Some cultures place more importance on listening than other cultures. In general, collectivistic cultures tend to value listening more than individualistic cultures that are more speaker oriented. The value placed on verbal and nonverbal meaning also varies by culture and influences how we communicate and listen. A low-context communication style is one in which much of the meaning generated within an interaction comes from verbal communication rather than nonverbal or contextual cues. Conversely, much of the meaning generated by a high-context communication style comes from nonverbal and contextual cues (Lustig & Koester, 2006). For example, U.S. Americans of European descent generally use a low-context communication style, while people in East Asian and Latin American cultures use a high-context communication style. Contextual communication styles affect listening in many ways. Cultures with a high-context orientation generally use less verbal communication and value silence as a form of communication, which requires listeners to pay close attention to nonverbal signals and consider contextual influences on a message. Cultures with a low-context orientation must use more verbal communication and provide explicit details, since listeners aren’t expected to derive meaning from the context. Note that people from low-context cultures may feel frustrated by the ambiguity of speakers from high-context cultures, while speakers from high-context cultures may feel overwhelmed or even insulted by the level of detail used by low-context communicators.


  • Listening and Co-culture:

Much of the research on listening focuses on co-cultural identities based on gender, and this research has produced mixed results. As we’ve already learned, much of the research on gender differences and communication has been influenced by gender stereotypes and falsely connected to biological differences. More recent research has found that people communicate in ways that conform to gender stereotypes in some situations and not in others, which shows that our communication is more influenced by societal expectations than by innate or gendered “hard-wiring.” For example, through socialization, men are generally discouraged from expressing emotions in public. A woman sharing an emotional experience with a man may perceive the man’s lack of emotional reaction as a sign of inattentiveness, especially if he typically shows more emotion during private interactions. The man, however, may be listening but withholding nonverbal expressiveness because of social norms. He may not realize that withholding those expressions could be seen as a lack of empathetic or active listening.


7.5.3: Reflective Communication: Listening and Relationships

Pixabay license
(Images: Pixabay license)

Our ability to listen to others, or not, has implications for the overall relationship satisfaction.


It’s important to reflect on how you listen to others as it plays a central role in maintaining our relationships (Nelson-Jones, 2006), can influence relationship satisfaction, and impacts self-esteem. Listening to others provides a psychological reward, through the simple act of recognition that helps maintain our relationships. Listening to our relational partners and being listened to in return is part of the give-and-take of any interpersonal relationship. Our thoughts and experiences “back up” inside of us and getting them out helps us maintain a positive balance (Nelson, Jones, 2006). Something as routine and seemingly pointless as listening to our romantic partner debrief the events of their day or our roommate recount their weekend back home shows that we are taking an interest in their lives and are willing to put our own needs and concerns aside for a moment to attend to their needs. Listening also plays an important role in conflict. A lack of listening can often create or intensify conflict while effective listening helps us resolve it.

Listening has relational implications throughout our lives, too. Parents who engage in competent listening behaviors with their children from a very young age make their children feel worthwhile and appreciated, which affects their development in terms of personality and character (Nichols, 1995). A lack of listening leads to feelings of loneliness, which results in lower self-esteem and higher degrees of anxiety. In fact, by the age of four or five years old, the empathy and recognition shown by the presence or lack of listening has molded children’s personalities in noticeable ways (Nichols, 1995). Children who have been listened to grow up expecting that others will be available and receptive to them. These children are therefore more likely to interact confidently with teachers, parents, and peers in ways that help develop communication competence that will be built on throughout their lives. Children who have not been listened to may come to expect that others will not want to listen to them, which leads to a lack of opportunities to practice, develop, and hone foundational communication skills.


Back to: I.C.A.T Interpersonal Communication Abridged Textbook > Chapter 7: Listening