What purpose is there in talking if nobody listens, hears what is said or understands the person speaking? None. The process of listening represents 50% of the communication process and requires just as much practice as becoming a skilled speaker or writer. Listening is so important that many professional communicators believe it is the key to all effective communication. Today so many businesses recognize the importance of listening that they offer training to become better listeners. Thus among all communications, listening is the one skill that everyone should strive to master. If your goal is to excel in your position and advance in your organization, you need to acquire and develop good listening skills. The penalties for not doing so could be devastating.
Never overlook the importance of good two-way communication. Effective communication requires both communicators to understand each other. Strong listening skills are necessary to make information exchange successful.
6 Stages of Listening
Before you can understand why oral messages fail, you need to understand the complexities of listening. The 6-stage listening process is defined below.
Receiving involves the actual reception of the message. Successful reception is best when physical health is good and external noises, distractions and other annoyances are eliminated.
Interpreting means converting signals, signs and other data into meaning. The listener may draw on education, training, prior experiences and even cultural and moral considerations to render a personal interpretation. The interpretation process might involve consideration from the communicator’s frame of reference. This is particularly true if the communicator comes from a different field, culture, age group, or alternative lifestyle that may influence beliefs and ideas.
Once the message is interpreted, it is stored for future use. This process might involve taking actual notes of the conversation or simply committing the key points of the message to memory and recognizing your own personal feelings and beliefs.
Appraising the information that you receive involves assigning a value to it. Information with little value may be quickly discarded. As you appraise the information, you may try to separate opinion from belief and consider the claims that were presented.
Once you have evaluated the information, you need to respond, since the recipient usually expects a response. In a small group setting, you might provide a verbal reaction. Realize that your body language, including eye movement, nods, sighs, and head movement may be evaluated. In large group settings, an expected response might be applause and questions and comments raised during a question and answer session. In some cases, a reaction might include a written follow-up.
The goal of any speech should be some sort of reaction. It could be to persuade, inform or encourage some sort of action. Sometimes the communication fails to elicit any response. In professional communication, it is wise to communicate the exact action that you intend to take to avoid misunderstandings.
Obstacles Preventing Effective Listening
Developing strong listening skills requires overcoming some physical and psychological obstacles. These obstacles include:
Throughout our lives, we develop preconceived notions, prejudices, guiding principles and cultural and societal conventions that shape our thoughts and decision-making. Consequently, many listeners draw quick conclusions and reject new information that might influence their thoughts. Often these people quickly discard ideas that contrast with their beliefs. Good listeners maintain an open mind by listening to and considering new facts and opinions.
Instead of listening, some people prefer to take over a conversation, regardless of their level of expertise, qualifications, and experience with the topic. They often assume that they know more than the speaker and that they must prove it. They distract others who have gathered to listen to the speaker and prevent the message from being shared. Sometimes they go as far as deprecating the speaker, often turning the audience off completely to anything else that might be said.
3. Selective listening
Selective listeners allow themselves to be easily distracted while they should be listening. Their minds may drift as they think about the weather, weekend plans, work projects or the next meal. Their attention is elsewhere until they hear or see something that temporarily attracts their attention and entices them to listen again.
Since today’s global business environment is multilingual, listeners must also be skilled at listening to non-native English speakers. This infographic provides some simple suggestions. When language barriers exist, it’s best to consult with a professional translator or interpreter.
Recommendations to improve listening
Becoming a good listener is hard. Improving your listening skills requires a conscious effort. Here are a few suggestions that can help you improve your skills.
1. Relax and get situated in a comfortable position that is conducive for listening. Clear your mind so that you can devote your complete attention.
2. Free your mind of prejudice and preconceptions. Listen completely to what the speaker has to say and refrain from forming early judgments.
3. Maintain an open mind, particularly to new findings and opinions. While you may disagree with the material presented, try to appreciate what is being communicated.
4. Communicate respect by maintaining body languages, such as eye contact, posture and facial expressions that communicate your respect and attention.
5. Refrain from interrupting and being disruptive. Hold your comments and questions until the speaker is finished.