Of any language, there are basic four skills which are listening skills, speaking skills, reading skills and writing skills. Listening and reading are input skills while speaking and writing are out put skills.
As it is said that if you want to be a good speaker, be a good listener. Effective listening is the start of effective communication. If a person is listening effectively, he is showing respect and care for the other persons.
For being effective listener, empathy, concentration and energy are of great importance. In practical scenario, listening takes place at two levels. The first level is of words and the second one is of feelings. As far as, feelings are concerned, the speaker should know about his own feelings and later on, he should know how to use and regulate those feelings to achieve the desired goals. Then he should know the feelings of the other person i.e., the listener.
During the process of listening, feelings are of primary importance while words are of secondary importance. So, if the listener is able to perceive the feelings of the speaker, effective communication will take place.
A big hurdle in the listening process is argumentation and interruption. Argumentation means that the listening process has ceased totally. On the other hand, interruption means that the listener is not interested in speaker.
Benefits of Effective Listening
Effective listening is the quality of great leaders, teachers, managers and all successful people. Normally, they are considered good speakers but in reality, they are the best listeners because they listen to the people attentively and interestingly and after that they respond and command to the followers.
Following are the key benefits of effective listening:
- Effective listeners are able to understand tasks in an effective way and find that what is expected from them.
- They have the ability to build rapport (a relationship of mutual understanding and trust) with colleagues, mentors and other people.
- They are capable of working in a team-based situation.
- They are able to resolve problems because of an empathetic attitude.
- They can answer queries because they understand the questions deeply.
- Each sentence has superfluous and deep meaning. Effective listeners access fundamental meanings because of the access of feelings and emotions of self and others.
- Due to effective listening practices, other people value the effective listeners because they feel that they are being respected, listened to and valued.
- This skill is a good addition to the personal development portfolio; along with this, it helps a person to explore new ideas.
Process of Listening
Following are the five stages of listening process.
Stage 1. Receiving (hearing)
Stage 2. Understanding (Learning)
Stage 3. Remembering (Recalling)
Stage 4. Evaluating (Judging)
Stage 5. Responding (Answering)
Let us discuss in detail these five steps or stages of listening one by one.
Stage 1. Receiving (Hearing)
When a speaker utters some words, sound receptors of the ears of the listener receive that sound; so, it is a physical response of the sound waves. An astonishing difference between hearing and listening is of attention; for listening, listener has to be attentive but nor for hearing.
Along with this, for listening, hearing is needed but for hearing, listening is not required. During the process of hearing, so many sound waves are touching the receptors of ears but brain screens and filters these waves and focuses only on the required sound waves which is very important for this process of effective listening.
Stage 2. Understanding
During this step, listener understands the sounds and takes clues from audio visual aids. When listener hears the sound waves, he also observes the body language, gestures, postures and all the other non-verbal hints which play an important role to enhance this process of effective listening. Listener also struggles to understand the intentional meanings of speaker by keeping contextual scenario in mind.
Stage 3. Remembering
The third step of effective listening is remembering which plays a very significant role in effective listening because without remembering, effective communication cannot proceed. Adding in mind’s storage bank is remembering.
It is an interesting fact that during hearing, listener’s attention is choosy, so too is memory. Listener can store the same words which he has heard or totally opposite also.
For example, your friend says that we shall work together, but you store in your mind that we shall not work together. So, in this case, hearing was something else and remembering was contrary to the main point.
Stage 4. Evaluating
At this stage, the active listener pays a lot of attention to weigh evidence and sorts facts from opinions. He also evaluates to find out any biasness or prejudice mixed with words. An important point should be kept in mind that before the completion of message given by the speaker, the process of evaluation cannot be started; otherwise, the process of effective communication will cease.
Stage 5. Responding
After going through the four stages of listening process, the last phase is of responding. Listener gives his feedback through verbal and non-verbal tools of communication. And, this is the only way through which speaker can determine the level of success in transmitting the message.
Listening is a skill and it can be improved by proper attention and practice. If a person wants to improve his listening skills, he can follow the following 10 steps:
- He should face the speaker and have proper eye contact because these things enhance effective communication.
- He should be very attentive but also relaxed.
- Listening all the facts and opinions of others with open mindedness is the primary quality of an effective listener.
- Good listener makes the picture of those words which he listens to, from speaker.
- Interruptions are obstacles in the process of effective listening so a good listener listens to the complete message and does not intervene most of the time.
- If he is asking some questions to clarify any point, he waits for the speaker to pause. Furthermore, he asks questions to check his understanding, not only for the sake of asking questions.
- He does not try to impose his own ready make solutions; rather understands the situation and acts accordingly.
- A good listener struggles intentionally to understand the feelings of speaker.
- Giving regular feedback is the peculiarity of a good speaker.
- By picking non-verbal cues, he tries to find out the things which are not being spoken by using words. So, he observes tone of voice, postures, gestures, facial expressions etc. to find something hidden.
So, these steps of effective listening can make any person an effective listener and he refines his communication skills.
Qualities of an Effective Listener
Before talking about the qualities of an effective listener, let us have a bird’s eye view on the signs of poor listening skills.
- The main challenge that a poor listener faces is of interruption because he interrupts the speaker again and again and impedes the process of effective communication. Interruption basically does not allow a listener to reach out the deeper meanings of words. So, the process of listening remains poor.
- If the question is different and answer if different, it means that question was not listened to properly and this is the sign of poor listening.
- Paying fake attention to speaker also indicates poor listening skills.
- If a listener pays attention to each and every word, he also misses the main point. This is also an indication of poor listening.
- Poor listeners don’t effort to go beyond the word level and find out non-verbal hints which play a crucial role in effective listening.
- Poor listeners don’t struggle to show to speaker that they are listening to him attentively.
The problems and deficiencies of poor listeners have been discussed one by one and if these are handled properly, a person can be an effective listener.
By following these points, a person can also be an effective listener:
- For being effective listener, there is no need to interrupt the talk of speaker.
- Answer should be according to the demand of the question.
- Paying honest and sincere attention is the essence of effective listeners.
- Non-verbal cues are crucial to find out the untold messages; so effective listeners pay full attention to non-verbal hints.
- Effective listener assures speaker that he is listening to him attentively and he proves it with his feedback and response.
Effective listening plays an important role in effective communication but there are some barriers in the process of effective listening. These are as follows:
- Physiological Barriers
These barriers are related with the physiology of human beings. Mostly, these are related with ears. Sometimes, there can also be the problems of processing information.
- Physical Barriers
The environment of the place where the process of listening is being taken place contributes an important role in effective listening. The noise of fans, temperature of the place and smoke of cigarettes are the examples of physical barriers. If the speaker is giving overloaded information, it can be a barrier in listening process. While listening, if listener’s cell phone beeps for some call or SMS, it surely will disturb the listening process.
- Attitudinal Barriers
Attitude is a small word but it makes a big difference in a person’s life. If a person is suffering from egocentrism (a belief that he knows more than speaker), it will be hard for him to listen to speaker. If listener feels that nothing new will be delivered, he will not pay attention and listening process will cease.
Along with this, pre occupation in his personal or professional problems also leads to distort listening process.
- Wrong Assumptions
After conducting research, it has been proved that in effective communication, both speaker and listener play an active role to make the communication process successful. But it is wrongly assumed that communicating information is the responsibility of speaker only. Reality is that listener through gestures, postures and a facial expression is fueling the process of effective communication.
- Cultural Barriers
Different cultures have different sets of vocabulary and their accents also vary not only from culture to culture but also within the same culture.
So, cultural barriers can also hinder the process of effective listening.
- Gender Barriers
Research has proved that males and females listen differently to pick different things from the same speech. Females listen to the emotions which are hidden behind the words while males try to find the facts behind the superfluous words.
Knowing about these different types of barriers can be supportive for a speaker to improve his communication level because he can effort to minimize these barriers as much as is possible.
Types of listening (Listening Skills)
Listening is so complicated phenomenon that it can be divided into various types. Therefore, following types of listening are being discussed:
Paying full attention to reach thinking and wanting of speaker comes under the category of active listening. Listener understands the message and paraphrases his understanding to speaker for confirmation of the message. This process of feedback and verification is the characteristic of active listening.
Listener listens to speaker to appreciate his point of view. Listener uses every opportunity to praise speaker’s opinion.
In this type of listening, listener pays attention to what is being said but does not follow the process of confirmation of speaker’s view point.
Sometimes, listener does not pay focus to what is said rather derives what he wants to listen.
When a person does not listen carefully, but shows casual approach during listening process, he does casual listening.
When a listener listens to for the sake of evaluation or criticism or judgement, he does critical listening.
In this type of listening, listener not only focuses on speaker’s word but also on his personality and hidden and untold motives.
Scanning for some specific information and leaving all other while listening comes under the category of discriminative listening.
While listening, when a listener only listens feelings of speaker and tries to solace and satiate the speaker, he follows the pattern of emphatic listening.
When listener pretends to listen but in reality, he spends most of the time in his own thinking and day dreaming, he is doing inactive listening.
In this type of listening, listener listens to speaker just for the well being of him.
Competitive or Combative Listening
When the purpose of listening is to promote listener’s own point of view and not understanding speaker’s opinion, combative or competitive listening takes place.