Effective listening saves time, prevents problems, and strengthens relationships. In a learning environment, good listening skills are needed since listening is the prime source of gathering information. Listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is a physical process. We hear noises around us but don’t make an effort to understand them unless the sound signals we’re in danger. Listening is different. Listening is a mental process. When we listen we translate the words coming at us into a format we can understand and use.
Many scientific studies show that approximately 45% of the time we spend in communication with others is spent listening. Even though listening is critical to our everyday lives, during our formative and educational years we learn little about listening well. Forty percent of the time in these learning years is spent learning how to read. Thirty-five percent is spent learning how to write. Twenty-five percent is spent learning how to talk and zero to one percent is spent on learning how to listen or communicate.
Most difficulties between people have a strong element of poor listening skill in the dynamic. Most of us over time have developed bad listening habits. For example, Instead of listening we are busy thinking about what we’re going to say next. Often we get distracted from what the person is saying by focusing on their mannerisms or what is going on around us distracts us.
The next is a big bad habit – we frequently interrupt before the other person is finished speaking. Also, without realizing it we drift off what the person is actually saying because we think we know what’s going to be said next. Or we do what is called “personality listening”. We evaluate the person who is talking. We may tune him/her out because we do not like their appearance or conclude what is being said isn’t worth listening to. Or we hear only what we want to hear.
Listening well is a hard thing to do. It is an interactive activity, not passive. The main goals of listening are – to understand, to learn, to enjoy, and to help and support. Unfortunately in our fast-paced world today, so much communication/information comes at us that we have developed survival habits of “tuning out” much of what is being said. We are bombarded with thousands of messages each day. We develop survival habits – tuning out TV and radio commercials and menu options on automated voice mail systems. Often, when we interact with others we tend not to look at them or make an effort to maintain eye contact.
In the entire communication process, experts tell us 7% is verbal, 55% is nonverbal and 38% is the voice and/or tone. Americans are listed as among the worst listeners in the world. Fortunately, bad habits can be broken and anyone can learn to listen well. It does take hard work and practice, but the rewards are great. Dr. Joyce Brothers think, “Listening, not imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Listening is an acquired skill. The first step is to DECIDE to listen. The first step is to KNOW when you are not listening. Ask yourself, “Can I repeat, rephrase, or clarify what is being said?” If you can’t, you’re not listening. The following tips can help you become someone with exceptional listening skills.
Prepare to Listen – Give your full attention to the person who is speaking. Do not do any other activity such as glancing at the TV, out the window, or look around at the environment that you’re in.
Make Eye Contact – Look at the speaker when they are talking. By looking directly at the person who is speaking you will pick-up non-verbal clues. Also by looking at the speaker he/she will know you are really listening and they in turn will work harder to make sure their message is being heard. Give feedback to the speaker by nodding your head and maintaining an upright posture. Smile. All of these elements signal to the person that you are attentively listening.
Don’t Talk – Don’t Interrupt – People want a chance to get their own ideas and opinions across. A good listener allows them to do so. Let the speaker finish their sentences then pause before you speak. The pause gives you an opportunity to consider what the person said and they in turn will appreciate your thoughtful approach rather than a reactive responsive approach. Match your thought process to the speaker’s words. We think and hear about 1,000 words per minute. The average speaking speed is 125 words per minute. Use receptive language to let the speaker know you are listening attentively. Use phrases such as, “I see..uh huh…oh really…and?
Avoid Judgments and Jumping to Conclusions – Nearly all the reasons for not listening are focused on ego and an inability to grant equal attention to another person. Avoid being self-absorbed, and placing your own priorities above the speakers for the time you are engaged in the communication dynamic. Resist the temptation to talk over the speaker or cut off their message to allow yours to dominate. Don’t slip into dismissing or diminishing what is being said. Don’t assume you know what the speaker is going to say next or where the direction or point of his/her message is.
Listen Between The Lines – Concentrate on what is not being said as well as the actual content of the message. Clues of meaning can be gained from a person’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures.
Ask Questions – Use who, what, where, why, when to clarify what the person said to better understand their point of view. If you are not sure of what the speaker is saying, ask a question to get clarification. Repeat in your own words that you thought the speaker said then ask, “Am I understanding this correctly?”
Know Thyself – Know where your hot and cold trigger buttons are that cause you to “tune out”. Be aware of them and when they surface in a communication process recognize it and push through the shutdown.
Listening is an art and a gift. Long ago, Epictetus told his Greek friends, “Nature has given us one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” Good listeners heed this age-old wisdom.