Listening Skills: Practical Steps To Listening Effectively

The communication process
Communication is a medium of information exchange between individuals or organizations through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviors and listening effectively. Human communication is the process of making the world logical and sharing that feeling with others. The process consists of three components: verbal, non-verbal and symbolic.

Verbal communication is the primary communication skills taught in the formal education system and includes such things as reading, writing, computer skills, e-mail, talking on the phone, writing memos and talking to others. Non-verbal communication is those messages that are expressed in other than verbal ways. Non-verbal communication is also called “body language” and includes facial expressions, posture, hand signals, voice, smell and other communication perceived by our senses. We can not communicate and even if we do not speak, our non-verbal communication conveys a message. Symbolic communication is demonstrated by the cars we control, the houses we live in and the clothes we wear (eg uniforms – police, army).

Words actually have no meaning; rather, we attach meaning to them through our own interpretation. That is why our life experience, belief system or perceptual framework determines how we hear the words. We hear what we expect to hear based on our interpretation of what the words mean.

Verbal communication skills are often said to contain 7% of the communication process. The remaining 93% consists of non-verbal and symbolic communication and is called ‘listening comprehension’. The Chinese characters that are part of the verb ‘to listen’ tell us that listening effectively includes the ear, the eyes, the undivided attention, and the heart.

Listening is described in countless studies as the most prominent form of communication. It has been identified as one of the most common problems in a marriage, one of the most important in family and social environments, and one of the most important communicative skills at work. People often think that listening is a natural ability because they can hear. It is not. Listening effectively requires a lot of skills and practice and is a learned skill. Listening skills have been described as ‘listening with our hearts’ or ‘hearing between the words’.

The hearing is the physiological dimension of listening that occurs when sound waves hit the ear at a certain frequency and loudness and are affected by background noise. Being present is filtering some messages and focusing on others. Understanding occurs when we understand a message. Remember is the ability to recall information. Listening effectively is not just a passive activity; we are active participants in a communication transaction.

Practical steps for more effective listening
1. Talk less. One of my students always said that when she facilitated classes, she always told her students that God gave you one mouth and two ears – that should tell you something.
2. Get rid of a distraction. If it is important for you to listen, do everything you can to eliminate internal and external noise and distractions that impede listening.
3. Do not judge prematurely. We are all guilty of forming quick judgments and evaluating others before we hear them, especially when the speaker’s ideas are in conflict with ours.
4. Search for important ideas. We think much faster than people speak. To help focus attention (instead of floating away in boredom) you get the central idea out of it.
5. Ask sincere questions. ‘Devil’s advocate’ questions are actually covert statements or criticisms. Sincere questions are requests for new information that clarifies the thoughts or feelings of a speaker.
6. Paraphrase. Reform the speaker’s thoughts in your own words to ensure that your interpretation as a listener is correct.
7. Suspend your own agenda. In other words, while listening, focus on what the speaker says and not what you think.
8. Empathic listening. Empathetic listening is knowing that you have done the same in the same circumstances. It is the ability to experience the world from the perspective of the other. It does not necessarily mean that you agree with it, but that you understand it.
9. Open your heart with love. We often listen to points and we make ourselves and the other person wrong. When we open our hearts to each other, we do so with the conviction that we are all the same. We have the same feelings, fears, and pains: doing the best we can with what we know.


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