Effective Listening Skill
Listening is the communication skill that many people frequently use the most. During the course of each day we are constantly called upon to listen in a variety of situations. For example, we listen when we use telephone, attend seminars and meetings, participate in arguments, give and receive instructions, make decisions based on oral information.
Studies have shown that one of the major limitations in establishing and maintaining relationships in the business world is inability of the partners to listen effectively, yet only few of us make deliberate effort to listen actively.
Mark Twain famously emphasized the importance of listening:
If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear. — Mark Twain, writer and publisher.
What then is Listening?
Listening is a process of receiving and interpreting the spoken word. It involves recognizing what is said and comprehending the message.
According to the International Listening AssociationOpens in new window,
- Listening is “the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages.”
Michael Purdy in his views offers an extended definition that includes memory:
- “Listening is the active and dynamic process of attending, perceiving, interpreting, remembering, and responding to the expressed (verbal and nonverbal) needs, concerns, and information offered by other (persons) human beings.”
Some theorists perceive listening as being parallel to, and the social equivalent of, reading: when we read we attempt to understand and assimilate the written word.
- And when we listen we attempt to understand and assimilate the spoken word.
Interpersonal listening requires that we listen or pay attention to what is said (the verbal or content level of the message) and the manner in which it is conveyed—the nonverbal or relational level of the message.
Therefore, we have to listen to the words that are being spoken and, at the same time, ‘listen’ to the nonverbal cuesOpens in new window that accompany the words. This is because the nonverbal part of the message made up of body languageOpens in new window carries the feelings and emotions of the speaker, and often ‘says’ more than the words that are used.
Listening actively and effectively therefore helps us interpret messages and response more accurately and thereby gain a better understanding of the people with whom we come into contact.
Understanding the Process of Listening
Listening is often explained by distinguishing it from hearing. Unlike hearing, which is a passive process, listening is a mental skill which can be developed. We are all born with innate ability to hear—hearing is the physical act of receiving aural stimuli (sounds).
Listening, like all acts of perception, is a dynamic, active process involving the speaker and the listener. Listening occurs when the signals or sounds sent to the brain are processed and used—that is, when we attend to what is being said, select what is relevant and then understand and interpret it for ourselves.
The processes involved in listening can be likend to perception processOpens in new window. Efficient listening also requires that we remember what has been conveyed to us and that we respond to the speaker. To develop listening skills it is important you understand the listening processOpens in new window.
Types of Listening
There are many reasons—to relax, obtain information, express interest, and discover attitudes—as to why people listen. When you listen to music, usually you are listening to relax.
Listening to gain directions for a task, taking part in an interview, and getting feedback from a customer are examples of listening to obtain information.
In most cases you are motivated to listen just so people know that you are interested in what they have to say and that they are important. Thus, listening and responding to friends during lunch signals that their thoughts and feelings are important to you.
People use different types of listening when listening for different purposes. A first step toward becoming an effective listener is to understand the type of listening that is appropriate for particular purposes. The listening may either be passive listening or active listening. Your degree of involvement in a given interaction and the amount of energy you expend in listening distinguishes active from passive listening.
Passive listening, also called casual listening, occupies a good deal of our listening time — we listen to music, our favourite television programme, or a friend sharing an interesting titbit of gossip or telling a humorous story. At such times we may suspend our critical faculties, relax and enjoy the stimulation. At other times, for example, at a concert or at the theatre, we may listen for enjoyment, but we nevertheless respond intellectually or emotionally to the music or the words of the play. Casual listening expends little energy or effort because the response is to ourselves rather than to the performers.
Active listening is more goal-oriented than passive listening. Active listening is hearing and trying to understand and remember a message. It has a purpose. It implies that you have a definite goal in mind as to why you are listening. You work harder to absorb the contents of the message shared by your team leader, for example, than listening to a DJ announcing your favourite piece of music. The following type of listening provide an idea of the different levels at which we listen actively.
Guides for Effective Communication at the Workplace
Listening is so basic and central to human existence that we often take it for granted. We are accustomed to thinking about the influence we have as speakers or writers and have failed to recognize the power we hold as listeners.
Effective listening is an acquired skill achieved by constant practice. An effective listener prepares to listen by getting rid of physical and physiological listening barriers. When someone approaches you at your desk or in a meeting to start a conversation; keep an open mind and stop talking or doing any task. Get your mind cleared of distracting thoughts and give the speaker your full attention.
As the speaker begins talking, quickly determine the type of active listening that will be appropriate. Is the speaker giving you instructions? If so, make do with informative listening. Does the speaker seem worried or upset? Emphatic listening may be the right option to help you communicate effectively in this situation.
Do not allow biases or previous experiences keep you from listening with an open mind. Perhaps you have heard a speaker presents ideas at several meetings and have found none of the ideas helpful. Things might be different this time. Do not miss important information because you prejudge a speaker or a topic. When receiving instructions from someone or listening to someone speak in a meeting, quickly note questions that you will ask later to help clarify points you do not understand.
Note also that when conversing with someone, you don’t start thinking about your response while the other person is still speaking. Doing so might cause you to miss part of the message. A nod or an encouraging smile can show the speaker that you are interested in his or her message. Restating important points of the message at an appropriate time can verify that you have understood the message.
|Follow these tips for effective listening:|
In the sphere of business, you are bound to find two common listening situations — listening in a small group and listening in a conference setting.
|Listening in a Small Group|
When in a small group, several communication skills, including your listening skills, are important. Practice active listening. Listen for both ideas and feelings. Use effective eye contact and nonverbal cues that indicate to others that you are listening. Check your understanding by asking questions or restating ideas as appropriate.
|Listening in a Conference Setting|
As an employee, you will continue to learn new skills and information related to your line of job. You may attend meetings, seminars, or conferences designed to improve your skills and knowledge. In such settings, you will be bound to use effective listening skills in order to listen effectively and ultimately to learn. The following are guidelines for taking part in a seminar or conference.
Being an effective listener can strengthen your productivity and improve your relationships with co-workers and clients. Most managers agree that effective listening is the most crucial skill for becoming a successful manager because it improves work quality and boosts productivity.