The Importance of Listening Skills
‘Listening’ is a golden tool among remarkable capabilities of human beings. ‘Listening’ is also the foremost trait that helps us connect to people around. It also form a bond of belongingness with our surrounding Nature. Right from the time from being in the womb, we begin learning through listening. As we grow up, listening skills are a gateway to acquire diverse skills. What distinguishes ‘listening’ from ‘hearing’ is determined by the extent to which ‘hearing’ gets processed in the mind. Let us understand ‘listening’ in detail and learn the importance of listening skills!
What is Listening?
Listening is the ability to perceive and interpret messages after they are heard. Listening is an essential key to effective communication. It includes everything from paying attention, to gestures, and to apt judgement with appropriate responses. Listening involves mindful gathering and deep correlation of information. It is the mother of all skills! If all other skills are like applications on your mobile phone, ‘listening’ can be equated to the ‘app-store’. Through listening, you have access to all other applications!
Types of Listening
Listening can be broadly categorised into active and passive listening. Active listening involves creating the right vibes for mutual understanding. A passive listener, on the other hand shows inactive involvement and idle participation in a communication. Obviously, our focus would now shift to active listening. As all useful outcome associated with listening is attributed to active listening. We shall explore the various dimensions that can transform shallow listening to attentive gathering of information.
Ten Essential Dimensions to Active Listening
Rearrange the letters in the word ‘listen’ to arrive at the word ‘silent’. Silence both in outwardly speech and in taming of distracting thoughts allows for good listening. Again, silence is not about complete quietness. It is about the right nods and affirmations, and continuous evaluation in the mind of what is being heard!
Curiosity is the driving force behind being an active listener. Curiosity kindles interest and with interest we attain focus in listening. It is a quality that’s inherent in us since childhood that we need to retain and refresh even in adulthood. Curiosity leads to intent listening and this contributes in imbibing qualities that polish a host of hidden talents. Albert Einstein once underlined the importance of curiosity through his quote:
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.Tweet
Being attentive is about being mindfulness or living in present. It is about being completely charged-up rather than being agitated. It is about being active and zealous and yet looking relaxed. This kind of a blend is what leads to the mental preparedness in active listening. It also has an added benefit of bringing out the best in the speaker during a face-to face interaction.
Keeping an Open Mind
One cannot be an active listener until one realises the importance of being open-minded. When you are open-minded you are patient and receptive to new ideas, and approaches. It means being critical in just the right amount to be able to judge what is right or wrong. Too much criticism dilutes loyalty and stirs up ambiguity in thoughts leading to a closed mind-set.
Appreciative listening comes with one realisation that meeting and listening to people is ‘education’ in itself. Books, informative videos or lectures happen through people. So listening to what people have to say, driven by their attitude, is a sure way to changing views and nurturing growth within ourselves. This understanding makes you appreciative of new views and inclines you to active listening.
A tinge of emotional feelings and insight into listening contributes to empathetic listening. Empathetic listening involves a mix of being able to connect to the speaker cognitively, while involving the right proportion of emotions. Empathy is not sympathising, rather it is to try and put ourselves in the other person’s position in order to feel the depth of what is being discussed.
Discrimination is the quality of listening where you interpret or unfold ideas. Discrimination is when we can judge the mood, feelings, or vibes purely based on noticing sounds and body language rather than by the words being used. We adopt discriminative listening right from infancy.
Comprehension is also a type of interpretation but it involves the next level of the most important aspects that is; language and vocabulary. To be able to interpret the perfect idea being conveyed, a thorough knowledge of vocabulary and deep understanding of any language becomes a must. Lacking the hold on language results in failure to capture the essence of speech. Misinterpretation disrupts the rapport between the speaker and listener and defeats the purpose of listening.
The highest level of active listening is about being critical. Critical listening is when you take in information that is heard, assimilate it, and then evaluate the details. It is part of scientific observation, used mostly to analyse a subject, and draw an inference. Critical listening invokes original and independent thinking and always serves a purpose like problem-solving, or innovation. Critical listening should not be overdone, otherwise it becomes toxic and shakes the foothold of trust. Quivering trust is a major setback in active listening.
Effective questioning is a response and a skill that reflects active listening in participants. Questioning can be powerful and it is not an understatement if one says that sometimes most learning happens in this phase of an interaction. Planned questioning, by one participant, contributes tremendously to active listening of other participants. Type of questions asked during conversations serve a range of purposes. One may understand facts, gain details, focus on priorities, summarize the gist, or arrive at an inference by merely framing either open, closed, or probing questions.
FAQs (frequently asked questions) are a quick and straightforward strategy adopted both by speakers and by the audience to keep alive active listening and speed up the learning process.
Effective Listening is a Powerful Medium
Listening is the twine that keeps relationships bound together. It defines respect between spouses, affection between parents and children, or warmth between siblings and friends!
Listening is a pathway that enriches co-operation and also forms a medium to earn mastery in:
The highest mark of respect to anyone is conveyed through patient listening. Listening is a mature behaviour and a way to value what the other person is trying to convey. On the contrary, poor listening could prove disrespectful if one keeps looking into gadgets, or makes disinterested gestures while the talk is on, or if one is only trying to find fault in the talk through illogical arguments.
Active listeners are the ones who make the other party feel supported while they speak and this builds confidence to deliver his or her best to the audience. Confidence enriches self-esteem. It creates room for dealing with challenging issues and in sorting out differences through open discussion.
If you do not want conflict resolution to terminate in chaos, you need to rely on empathetic and careful listening. The other person feels that the listener is trying to help resolve rather than drag into arguments. Listening promotes cooperation, aids in identifying errors jointly, and eventually resolving them with proper reasoning.
Suggestions that Open-up Alternative Routes
Good listening by audience generates feedbacks and suggestions that highlights problems or shortcomings and based on these suggestions, new ideas can be implemented for a makeover. A passive listener cannot comprehend and is therefore incapable of suggesting appropriately.
Merit to learn about importance of listening skills
Listening is important everywhere and more so where it forms the core strength of a profession. Below are a few domains where one cannot afford to neglect this virtue.
Importance of listening skills for Leadership
Listening skill is among the key leadership qualities. A leader needs to be a very good orator to influence his/her team. However, high quality communication in leadership is complete only when oration is supplemented with great listening skills. A leader motivates, and helps implement ideas, but the ideas flow from the team members. Unless the leader is an intent listener, these ideas will not reach him/her.
A business analyst for example needs to master the skill of listening in order to draw information from project sponsors, stakeholders, technology team, and managers and only then proceed to endorse products or services.
Importance of listening skills for teaching profession
Teaching is a highly responsible profession. Students are a treasure of creative minds. It is amazing that even within the same classroom while they listen to the same set of teachers, students interpret what is being taught so differently. They all choose different fields of learning as they grow up, based on how they had rebuilt concepts that were taught to them. A teacher who carefully listens can validate their understanding, strengthen their interests, effectively negotiate with students and also solve conflicts among them.
Listening is a two-way process and the students are expected to be active listeners in a classroom. Great listening happens in these stages:
- Stage-1: Keeping an open mind without pe-conceived notions to completely absorb the incoming message.
- Stage-2: Retaining the message in memory, then rebuilding the idea to unfold the meaning and understand it.
- Stage-3: Evaluating what is understood and arrive at opinions.
- Stage-4: Responding to the message with remarks, or relevant questioning.
Importance of listening skills for Health care
Listening is a crucial aspect in the medical profession. Notice that in a doctor-patient interaction, it is always the patient who speaks first and explains his/her complaints. The doctor after careful listening, lists out the symptoms and verifies them with the patient, based on which further steps for diagnosis or treatment are taken.
The doctor also should be respectful towards the patient and be neutral. This will encourage the patient not to hide any feelings and freely express all symptoms. If the patient is not listened to properly, then what results is either erroneous interpretation and misdiagnosis, or a waste of time by imposing un-necessary medical tests on the patient.
Allied health professions such as ‘medical transcription’ that involves making note of voice-recorded medical reports, lectures, etc. or those dictated by the physicians or nurses over phone, requires:
- Listening to the recording carefully before transcribing.
- Speed and accuracy while listening and interpreting correctly, what is being heard.
- Being familiar with the medical terms or lingo along with the language used as medium of speech.
Importance of listening skills & Music
Learning music is all about listening. Nothing can replace listening to make one familiar with the notes and tunes while learning music; instrumental or vocal. Only after careful listening, can one proceed with theory, practice, and performance. Music is a like a language that has to be developed through listening.
Importance of listening skills among Judges and Lawyers
When lawyers take up cases and judges conduct the trials with the view to pass impartial judgement, listening gets foremost emphasis. A good amount of information to the judge comes from witnesses, attorney, the police, or anyone who speaks in the courtroom. The judge should we well-trained in listening in order to stay focussed and not miss out on any small bit of information. He should repeat by summarising what was heard and confirm it with the speaker. The judge should encourage rather than interrupt the speaker so that he/she is comfortable in the courtroom environment to speak without hesitation.
Barriers to Listening
Certain barriers could obstruct the listening process. They could be:
- External barriers like noise, language or accent problems, the tone or speed of speech, any kind of distraction, interruptions, or others.
- Internal barriers to listening include emotional anxiety, boredom, low attentiveness due to pressure of performance, having prior beliefs and conviction, inability to concentrate and may others.
Barriers must be overcome by maintaining a quiet atmosphere, following discipline and also practicing mindfulness techniques that help improve attentiveness, concentration and stay relaxed.
The power of listening skills
- Breaks assumptions.
- Builds relationships.
- Ignites innovation.
- Extinguishes quarrels.
Listening has no set limits to its virtue. It forms the channel to lead one to success. Listening needs to be practiced to achieve a firm grip over it till it becomes a habit. It helps one understand not only what is said but also in hearing what is unsaid. Listening is the clear route to success as Bernard Baruch puts it:
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
Recommended books for importance of listening skills
This article is contributed by Ms Preeti Tambraparni, post graduate in microbiology with a certification in clinical research. Her expertise are writing personal blog in life science related topics and health blog.
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