Being a good listener is an essential part of being a good leader and conducting successful and meaningful business in today’s professional world. Listening, and not just hearing, can truly make or break a business deal. However, many people don’t take the time to actually understand the difference between hearing and listening and to spend the time to focus on being a good listener. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, on the other hand, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from the words and sentences you are hearing. Listening leads to learning. However, unfortunately research shows that the average person listens with only 25% efficiency. Today we’ll break down the levels of hearing and listening, discuss what hearing and listening are, and provide attributes of good listening so that you can become a better and more effective listener.
There are four basic levels of hearing and listening. People typically fall into one of these categories depending on person they are speaking with and the specific conversation being had. First, a non-listener – this person is completely preoccupied with their personal thoughts and though they may hear the words, they are not listening to what is being said. Second, a passive listener – this person hears the words but doesn’t fully absorb or understand them. Next, a listener – this person pays attention to the speaker but only grasps some of the intended message. Lastly, an active listener – this person is completely focused on the speaker and understands the meaning of the words without distortion.
Hearing takes place when something disturbs the atmosphere and the disturbance takes the form of pressure waves that strike our eardrums as sound. It is the way we perceive the sound that is actually hearing. You can hear someone speak without listening to the words. Hearing defines only the physical measurement of the sound waves that are transmitted to the ear and into the brain where they are processed as audible information. Hearing occurs with or without your consent. In fact, it is such a passive quality that it occurs even when you sleep. In conversation, when you merely hear someone’s words but are not listening to what is being said, it can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities.
Listening goes far beyond your natural hearing process. It means that you are paying attention to the words that are being spoken with the intention of understanding the other person. Listening requires that we are open to the meaning of the other person’s words and that we enter into their experience that those words are meant to convey. The most important quality of listening is that you allow yourself to step aside and be mindful of the other’s words and experience. That doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your own point of view – instead, you set it aside for the time you are listening so that you are receptive to what is being communicated. When you listen, the rewards are immediate and forge better connection between you and the speaker.
To be an effective listener one must possess a strong skill set which are attributes of good listening:
- Concentration – focus your attention on the words, ideas and feelings related to the subject at hand. Concentrate on main ideas and key points.
- Attention – defined as the visual portion of concentration, eye contact and body language give clues to your level of attention.
- Eye contact – good eye contact is essential as it centers you from being distracted from the conversation.
- Receptive body language – pay attention to what your body language says about you. Are your arms crossed? This shows that you are closed off to the conveyed ideas and feelings. Are you leaning in? This shows that you are avidly interested in the conversation.
- Be Objective – be open and receptive, we should be open to the message the other person is sending. This makes effective listening much easier.
- Restating the message – this will avoid any miscommunication and will help you solidify your understanding of the speaker’s output.
- Questioning/Clarifying – if there is anything that you are unclear about it is important to voice this. Not only will this enable that you and the speaker are on the same page, but will also show that you are being a good listener and value their words.
- Empathy – which is the action of understanding, helps you to be aware of, be sensitive to and vicariously experience the feelings and thoughts of the other person. This is key to effective listening.
- Strategic Pauses – these can be used very effectively in listening; a pause at certain points in the conversation can signal that you are carefully considering the conveyed message.
- Don’t Interject – of course there will be times when you are tempted to jump in, however, doing this could only potentially derail the person’s train-of-thought and hinder the
- Leave the channel open – a good listener always leaves open the possibility of additional thoughts or messages.
- Lastly, but most importantly, you cannot listen while you are talking – although this may be obvious, it is frequently overlooked or ignored. It is important to always keep this in mind when communicating effectively.