The following items provide some clarification about what listening is and is not, as well as what role listening skills play in effective communication. Some you may have already thought about, others perhaps not.
- Hearing and listening are completely different processes. Hearing is an automatic physiological process, allowing people to hear sounds whether or not they plan to do so. Short of having a severe hearing impairment, people will hear a sonic boom even if they do not intend to hear it. Listening, on the other hand, is an intentionally active mental process in which the listener makes a conscious effort to understand information that is being conveyed.
- Listening does take conscious effort. Listening is an active mental process, not a passive activity. Active listening results in some physiological changes similar to those that occur when a person is exercising.
- Both the speaker and the listener are necessary for effective communication to take place. Speaking is of no use if no one listens to make sure the information is understood. Effective communication requires both a speaker and a listener.
- Intelligence has little to do with listening skills. A genius can be a poor listener. In fact, some geniuses may be poor listeners because they are so busy talking about their own ideas and theories that they forget to listen to others.
- Good hearing ability has little to do with listening ability. A person with excellent hearing may be a poor listener, absorbing little or no information. A deaf person may be an excellent listener, even though the “listening” takes the form of watching sign language. “Listening” occurs through an active mental process.
- Speakers cannot force listeners to pay attention. Through good speaking skills, a person will draw and hold the attention of – and may even captivate – the listeners. Even so, the level of actual “listening” is up to the listener.
- Listening skills are gained through learning and practicing effective listening techniques. No one is born a good listener. The right skills must be learned and practiced. Practicing poor listening skills only results in strengthening poor listening behavior. A pitcher who continually practices a lousy curve ball will only get better and better at throwing that lousy curve ball. The same problem occurs if a person keeps practicing poor listening habits – the poor habits just get more and more ingrained in the person’s behavior. Find a teacher or a good manual on listening skills to learn effective techniques for listening. (A few basic tips: take mental notes, take written notes, eliminate or ignore distractions, focus attention on the speaker, concentrate on what the speaker is saying, summarize the information in your head, repeat back to the speaker what you believe you heard to confirm the information, as questions for clarification.) People with no training in listening skills tend to understand only about one-fourth of a message.
- Good writers or speakers are not necessarily good listeners. Writing skills and speaking skills are different from listening skills. Make the effort to learn all three.
If you are looking for more great communication tips, check out the book A Guide to Communication Basics for Business Owners and Managers.