Listening is an active process and critical to communication. Communication has two dimensions: speaking (expression) and listening (reception). We impart knowledge when we speak; we learn when we listen. The process of listening is often contrasted with hearing. Hearing is considered as a physical act while listening, a mental act. Active listening is a person’s willingness and ability to hear and understand. Active listening means staying awake both mentally and physically. Listening functions to serve our basic human needs. Listening serves the purposes of learning, establishing and maintaining friendships, building relationships, getting good trades and finding about our client’s needs, concerns or objections. It is reported that from 42 to 62% (or more) of our communication time is spent on listening depending on whether we are students, doctors, counselors, lawyers, nurses or any trainees. Another study found that college students spend 52.5 % of their time in listening (Barker et al 1980).
“Listening in an active and dynamic process of attending, perceiving, interpreting, remembering and responding to the expressed (verbal and nonverbal) needs, concerns and information offered by other human beings.”
There are 3 phases within the listening process such as leveling sharpening and assimilation.
Leveling(pre-listening) – the brain automatically shifts and separates the ‘sensical, from the ‘non-sensical’.
Sharpening – the receiver checks and re-checks the inputs.
Assimilation – it depends on the degree of importance and mental makeup of the listener. Reflection time should be given for the listener to assimilate.
Types of listening
There are 5 types of listening. Listening differs in work, social and family situations.
Discriminative listening – this type of listening involves the basic skill of noticing the aspects or details of the message itself (both verbal and nonverbal). The listener becomes aware of the features of the message, rather than the content.
Comprehensive listening – this type of listening is for understanding the message. This is essentially listening without being critical or evaluating the message but listening simply to learn e.g., students listens a classroom lecture.
Critical –evaluative listening – this type of listening is an intelligent listening of persuasive or media messages. Critical listening assumes both discriminative and comprehensive listening.
Therapeutic/ emphatic listening – this listening lends a non-judgemental, healing ear to family, friends and professional associates. It is the listening with the interest of the others in mind.
Appreciative listening – some of the time we listen primarily for enjoyment to appreciate rather than to evaluate or analyse.
7 – Components of active listening
1. Desire – a want to listen
2. Focus – focused attention
3. Perception –be aware of the elements of message, speaker and context.
4. Interpretation – capacity to interpret the messages and meanings of others.
5. Remembering – consciously work to remember what you hear.
6. Response – make a habit of responding with feedback.
7. Receptive to the personal element – care about the relationship.
Stages of active listening
Stop all other activities;
Look directly at the speaker;
Listen and reflect;
React to identify the important points, to make mental pictures, to record the messages in point form, to make sketches and to make connections.
Attending – involved in ‘listening with a purpose’, maintaining good eye contact and having an attentive body orientation of posture. It is of paying attention to non-verbal forms of communication and meaning.
Asking questions – expressing verbal comments or gestures; seeking clarifications wherever possible.
Responding – summarizing and sharing the message and giving a feedback.
· Branding the subject as uninteresting.
· Criticizing a speaker’s delivery or mannerisms.
· Getting too stimulated by what the speaker says.
· Listening only for facts.
· Faking attention.
· Becoming distracted.
· Avoiding difficult material.
· Allowing emotion – laden words to arouse personal antagonism, day dreaming and wasting the benefits of thought speed.
Effective listening habits
Hearing is a natural process whereas listening is a higher cognitive process. Basically we think much faster than we speak. The average person talks at speed of around 125 words per minute. Yet people think up to 500 words a minute. People listen at different speeds. Listening needs concentration of mind on the part of the listener. Concentration requires proper posture and physical environment. Sometimes poor listening is generated by the speaker. The listener should try to organize the ideas that the speaker is conveying. Making notes will help in the initial stages. Non – verbal signals, the tone of voice, gestures and facial expressions could make a lot of differences in what is actually being conveyed. Patience and willingness on the part of the listener to achieve active listening is understanding the ‘music behind the words’ – it is the music which conveys the real meaning of what is being communicated.
Importance of listening
Listening is our primary means of growth and intellectual development. It is an important ingredient to success in personal and professional life. Listening is crucial to the good health of our interpersonal relationships; to our roles as parents, children, friends and lovers. By listening, we discover their unique needs, concerns, desires, fears and objections.
Quotes for thought
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” –Turkish proverb.
“The world is giving you answers each day. Learn to listen.”
“Every good conversation starts with good listening.”
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
They listen with the intent to reply.”