How to be a good Listener

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WHAT IS LISTENING

We can hear with our two ears, unless we have hearing problem, we can hear everything within hearing range. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what you heard. Hearing is a physical and natural mental process. As we walk, we hear our footsteps, we can hear voices of people talking around us without really understand them and if our mind is conscious, we can hear any sounds even if its soft or far away. When we hear, we only perceive sounds but when we listen, our hearing is accompanied by a deliberate and purposeful act of the mind.

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According to research, the average listening efficiency rate in the business world is only 25 per cent. 85% of what we know is from listening, 45% of our time is spent on listening. A normal listener can only recall 50 per cent of the information conveyed after a 10 minute presentation and only 20% of it is remembered long term.

Listening is part of communication process and the most important role in the process. We listen to obtain information, to understand and to learn. Your listening skill has a major impact on the quality of your relationship with others and your job effectiveness. We communicate every day, we receive message by listening.

This article overviews three extremely important skills within the training of a guidance and counseling environment: active listening, the stages of listening and the barriers and how to deal with barriers in listening. Listening skills is a must learn skills for everyone, from students, teachers, parents, employee, employers and leaders. Not only it an important skills, but necessary in daily duties.

LISTENING SKILLS

THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING SKILLS

Effective listening is arguably one of the most important skills to have nowadays. Business people and employees need effective listening skills to solve complex problems and achieve company’s goal. Personal relationships need effective listening skills to face complicated issues together. Effective listening, on the other hand, is not about the words having delivered, it requires more than hearing the sounds transmitted. Effective listening encourages that we for understanding of what the other person talks about or feel. And we can do this by focusing on other the person, by thoughts and feelings and not only by words.

According to John C. Maxwell (The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork), creating positive change in an organization requires communication. Interaction fuels action. That is the power of the Law of Communication. Only with good communication can a team succeed-it doesn’t matter whether the team is a family, a company, a ministry, or a ball club. Effective teams have teammates who are constantly talking to one another. Communication increase commitment and connection; they in turn fuel action. If you want your team to perform at the highest level, the people on it need to be able to talk to and listen to one another.

There are for purpose of listening that makes this skill important.

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I. To Gain New Information and Ideas

One way of learning is by listening. For example, lecture in class can give you more understanding from what you read in your textbook, a customer bought a car by listening to a persuasive salesperson. New ideas are received daily, via the oral medium, if one listens. In other words, speakers must select reliable evidence. A goal is to arrive at a conclusion that is true, workable, and acceptable to many people.

II. To question and Test Evidence and Assumptions

When a speaker presents a message, much of what is said consists of facts (verifiable data) or opinions (inferences). Good listeners test those facts and opinions against assumptions and then question the speaker. You will get additional information and the selection of acceptable evidence and data by asking question and listening.

III. To be inspired

Listening to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech can be inspiring. Sales Manager for example, gives motivation speech to his or her team. In order to inspire and be inspired, you have to listen to others.
You have to listen to others, pay attention to their ideas and concerns, help them solve their problems, and be open to their influence. When you show your openness to their ideas and your interest in their concerns, your constituents will be more open to yours.

IV. Improve Your Own Communication

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Role models and mentors are valuable to young people entering the business world. If your role model is an effective communicator, learn from them. There are also ways to study communicators, such as attending seminar, listening to great speaker on YouTube or television or join public speaking such as toastmaster. Choose the best techniques, listen for and adopt those that are done well. Add them to your list of desirable attributes. Omit undesirable habits that you see and hear.

STAGES IN LISTENING SKILLS

To be a better communicator and listening skills, it is important to learn each stage for these skills. There are four stages in listening skills, the first stage is receiving, secondly is understanding, third stage is evaluating and last stage is responding. Here are the stages in listening skills and tips for improvement.

  1. RECEIVING

The first stage of the listening process is the receiving stage, which involves hearing and attending. In order to gather information, we must be able to physically hear what we are listening to. The clearer it is, the easier it is to listen and understand.

Listening begins with receiving messages the speaker sends. Paired with hearing, attending is the other half of the receiving stage in the listening process. Attending is the process of accurately identifying and interpreting particular sounds we hear as words. The sounds we hear have no meaning until we give them their meaning in context. In listening you receive both the verbal and the nonverbal messages, not only the words but also the gestures, facial expressions, variations in volume and rate.

Listeners are often bombarded with a variety of auditory stimuli all at once, so they must differentiate which of those stimuli are speech sounds and which are not. Effective listening involves being able to focus in on speech sounds while disregarding other noise.

For example, your friend wants to tell you a story at a noisy restaurant, your friend is pouring her heart out, you as a listener needs to ignore the other sounds to listen and understand what she is trying to convey.
To receive the message well, you should:

• Look for feedback in response to previous message;
• Avoid distractions in the environment and focus attention on the speaker rather than on what you’ll say next; and
• Avoid interrupting the speaker until he or she is finished and maintain your role as a listener.

UNDERSTANDING

The second stage is the listening process is the understanding process, which you learn what the speaker means. This understanding must take into consideration both the thoughts that are expressed and the emotional tone that accompanies them, the urgency or the joy or sorrow expressed in the message.
This is the stage during which the listener determines the context and meanings of the words he or she hears. Determining the context and meaning of individual words, as well as assigning meaning in language, is essential to understanding sentences. This, in turn, is essential to understanding a speaker’s message.

Understanding what we hear is a huge part of our everyday lives, particularly in terms of gathering basic information. For instance, in the office, employees listen to their superiors for instructions about what they are to do. At school, students listen to teachers to learn new information and knowledge. But without understanding what we hear, none of this everyday listening would relay any practical information to us.

The simple act of listening to what other people have to say and appreciating their unique points of view demonstrates your respect for them and their ideas. Being sensitive to what others are going through creates bonds that make it easier to accept one another’s guidance and advice. These actions build mutual empathy and understanding, and that in turn build trust.

To improve your understanding;
• Ask questions to clarify or to secure additional details or examples if necessary.
• See the speaker’s messages from the speaker’s point of view. Avoid judging the message until you’ve fully understood it—as the speaker intended it.
• Rephrase the speaker’s ideas in your own words.

EVALUATING

This stage of the listening process is the one during which the listener assesses the information received, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Evaluating allows the listener to form an opinion of what she’s heard and, if necessary, to begin developing a response.

During the evaluating stage, the listener determines whether or not the information she’s heard and understood from the speaker is well constructed or disorganized, biased or unbiased, true or false, significant or insignificant. This stage of critical analysis is important for a listener in terms of how what she’s heard will affect her own ideas, decisions, actions, and/or beliefs. Evaluating consists of judging messages in some way. At times, you may try to evaluate the speaker’s underlying intent. Often this evaluation process goes on without much conscious thought.

The evaluating stage occurs most effectively once the listener fully understands what the speaker is trying to say. While we can, and sometimes do, form opinions of information and ideas that we don’t fully understand–or even that we misunderstand–doing so is not often ideal in the long run. Having a clear understanding of a speaker’s message allows a listener to evaluate that message without getting bogged down in ambiguities or spending unnecessary time and energy addressing points that may be tangential or otherwise nonessential.
In evaluating, try to:
• Resist evaluation until you fully understand the speaker’s point of view.
• Give the speaker the benefit of any doubt by asking for clarification on issues that you feel you must object to, if any.
• Distinguish facts from inferences opinions, and personal interpretations by the speaker.
• Identify any biases, self-interests, or prejudices that may lead the speaker to slant unfairly what is presented.

RESPONDING

The responding stage is the stage of the listening process wherein the listener provides verbal and/or nonverbal reactions based on short- or long-term memory.  A listener can respond to what she hears either verbally or non-verbally. Nonverbal signals can include gestures such as nodding, making eye contact, tapping her pen, fidgeting, scratching or cocking her head, smiling, rolling her eyes, grimacing, or any other body language. These kinds of responses can be displayed purposefully or involuntarily. Responding verbally might involve asking a question, requesting additional information, redirecting or changing the focus of a conversation, cutting off a speaker, or repeating what a speaker has said back to her in order to verify that the received message matches the intended message.

Nonverbal responses like nodding or eye contact allow the listener to communicate her level of interest without interrupting the speaker, thereby preserving the speaker/listener roles. When a listener responds verbally to what she hears and remembers—for example, with a question or a comment—the speaker/listener roles are reversed, at least momentarily.

Responding adds action to the listening process, which would otherwise be an outwardly passive process. Oftentimes, the speaker looks for verbal and nonverbal responses from the listener to determine if and how her message is being understood and/or considered. Based on the listener’s responses, the speaker can choose to either adjust or continue with the delivery of her message. For example, if a listener’s brow is furrowed and her arms are crossed, the speaker may determine that she needs to lighten her tone to better communicate her point. If a listener is smiling and nodding or asking questions, the speaker may feel that the listener is engaged and her message is being communicated effectively.  Be a good responder by using these tips:
• Express support for the speaker in your final responses. Be honest; the speaker has a right to expect honest responses, even if these express anger or disagreement.
• State your thoughts and feelings as your own, using I-messages. For example, say “I think the new proposal will entail greater expense than you outlined” rather than “Everyone will object to the plan for costing too much.”

BARRIERS TO LISTENING

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There are many things that get in the way of listening and you should be aware of these barriers, many of which are bad habits, in order to become a more effective listener. Thus, it is beneficial if we can understand and eliminate listening barriers that blocks deep, harmonious and lasting relationships. We feel that listening is easy as just give an ear or to reply without understanding the whole message and this is can be a barriers to effective listening.  A barrier is anything that gets in the way of clear communications. There are many barriers which come in the way of effective listening. Some of which are as following;

Prejudice against the Speaker

Prejudice is a preconceived opinion of feeling, which is usually irrational. We are distracted and unable to maintain attention because of our conflicts with our attitudes. With your critical evaluations of the speaker’s position, attitude, appearance or belief, you will not focus on the message or information the speaker trying to give. A prejudiced person will not make any effort to listen and understand.

External Distractions

Physical or environment, such as inappropriate décor in a room, the light too bright or too dim, the sound of the fan or music background too loud. Environment condition such as, the room being too hot or too cold are the external distraction for listener. Having your mobile phone on can be distracting too as you have tendency to always check whenever it ring or vibrate. Sitting near talkative or disturbing individuals can also distract listener’s attention from the speaker’s message.

Internal distraction

We react emotionally to certain words, concept and ideas given from the speakers. Also by looking at the speaker’s appearance and other cues, we tend to judge and questions and within ourselves. With this emotional reaction within us, we cannot focus on what the person trying to convey. Internal reaction words vary from person to person, each list influenced by feelings, attitudes, prejudices and biases we carry inside ourselves. Hence, some words cause negative reactions.

Experiencing physical difficulty

Feeling physically unwell, experiencing pain or hungry can make it very difficult to listen effectively. Imagine a person who has headache or migraine, the only things he or she can focus is the pain in their head.

Experiencing Information Overloaded

Most of us speak between 80 and 160 words per minute. Yet people have the capacity to think at the phenomenal rate of up to 800 words per minute. That leaves time on the listener’s hands (or in his or her head). Too much stimulation or information can make it shift their attention away from the speaker’s words.

Excessive Talking

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People with good conversational skills are more likely to achieve professional success. We want to anticipate in the conversation, you interrupted even before they completed their thought. Directly as a result of our rapid thinking speed, we race ahead to what we feel is the conclusion. We anticipate. We arrive at the concluding thought quickly-although often one that is quite different from the speaker intended.

However, taking more than necessary is a barrier to effective communication. People hesitate to interact with a person who talks excessively without listening to them. They may also get bored and excessive talking may be perceived as aggression. When we spend our listening time formulating our next response, we cannot be fully attentive to what the speaker is saying.

DEALING WITH BARRIERS TO LISTENING

There is always solution to every problem. Here are the some steps and suggestions to overcome the barriers to listening.

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Overcoming Prejudice

Respect the other person for his or her knowledge and skills. The moment we stop listening, we stop learning, especially if the person gives important information or knowledge. Be open-minded to listen and learn from other people, irrespective of the person’s background. Make conscious effort to take charge of your thoughts and avoid saying “I know what he or she is going to say” attitude while the other person is speaking. Remember that you don’t have to agree with everything, but it’s helpful if you at least consider listening.

Get Comfortable

In order to get yourself from the external distraction, you could try change the environment, for example ask to reduce the aircond’s temperature if it’s too cold, or change seat where is more comfortable. Learn not only to put your mobile phone on silent mode but switch it off. But if there is nothing you can change during that situation, you should learn to focus on the speaker rather than the environment around you. Face the person who is speaking and maintain eye contact while the other person is speaking.

The Art of Listening

As most of us have a lot of internal self-dialogue we spend a lot of time listening to our own thoughts and feelings – it can be difficult to switch the focus from ‘I’ or ‘me’ to ‘them’ or ‘you’. Effective listening involves opening your mind to the views of others and attempting to feel empathetic.
According to Daniel Goleman (Working with Emotional Intelligence), Listening well and deeply means going beyond what is said by asking questions, restating in one’s own words what you hear to be sure you understand. This is “active” listening. A mark of having truly heard someone else is to respond appropriately, even if that means making some change in what you do.

Reschedule Meeting

If you experience physical difficulty, you may need to get excuse and reschedule the meeting to another day. It is impossible to concentrate when you are unwell, experience pain or hungry. Otherwise, you may need to concentrate even more on the task of listening.

Stop and Listen

Focus on the other person, their thoughts and feelings. Consciously focus on quieting your own internal commentary, and step away from your own concerns to think about those of the speaker. Listen for the essence of the speaker’s thoughts, ideas and meaning. Seek and understanding of what the speaker is trying to convey.

Think Before You Speak

In order to overcome excessive talking habit, you should learn to think before you speak. Do not speak if you have nothing to contribute. Always practice self-control and be brief while conveying your thoughts. Allow the other person to speak, avoid interrupting when the other person is speaking and be aware of indulging in useless talk for the sake of talking. If you seek to clarify something, use appropriate body language such as raising your hand or ask politely for more details such as “I am sorry to interrupt you…”.

CONCLUSION

My research for this article, with reference from books and online articles shows that listening skill is an important skill.  Not only important for those in counselling field but apply to all, from family to business people. Listening skills are crucial to parents, as this skill helps them listen and understand their children. Students will be able to understand more on what their teachers present by listening attentively. Listening skills is a must learn skills for everyone, from students, teachers, parents, employee, employers and leaders. Not only it an important skills, but necessary in daily duties.

The four stages of listening is important to understand. The first stage of the listening process is the receiving stage, which involves hearing and attending. In order to gather information, we must be able to physically hear what we are listening to. The second stage is understanding, where we need to understand the message conveyed to us, the third stage is to evaluate the message and lastly after we respond after analyzing using the earlier stages.

It is important to learn and understand these stages of listening, to improve our communication skills. We overlook this skill as it sound easy but having said that, we create our own barrier of listening.  To conclude, I believe listening skill are more than a skill, it is a job and duties which can help us in our daily lives. It is important to learn how to listen, by listening we are learning.

Notes :  This article in assignment layout are available upon request

 

REFERENCES
Online
Active Listening Hear What People are Really Saying(online)https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm. Retrieved on 4 July 2016
Active Listening Skills. Anna Martin. 23 May 2016. The Counsellors Guide. (Online) http://www.thecounsellorsguide.co.uk/active-listening-skills.html. Retrieved on 9 July 2016
Communication Skills: Speaking and Listening. University of Kent. (online) https://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/communicating.htm#Listening. Retrieved on 3 July 2016
Bethamy, P. Roger. Listening and Responding to Others. Communication in a Changing World. (online) http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0072332123/student_view0/chapter4/index.html. Retrieved on 9 July 2016
Effective Communication. Help Guid.Org (Online) http://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships/effective-communication.htm. Retrieved on 14 July 2016
Effective Listening: 10 Barriers and How to Overcome Them. http:/ by: Srikanth Radhakrishna • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 10/24/2014 (Online) Bright Hub PM. www.brighthubpm.com/resource-management/122339-effective-listening-10-barriers-and-how-to-overcome-them/ Retrieved on 14 July 2016
Listening Skills. Skills You Need. (online) http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listening-skills.html. Retrieved on 4 July 2016
The Importance of Listening. Boundless (Online) https://www.boundless.com/communications/textbooks/boundless-communications-textbook/learning-to-listen-and-helping-others-do-the-same-5/understanding-listening-29/the-importance-of-listening-132-8285/. Retrieved on 8 July 2016
Books
Goleman, D. (1999). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York, USA: Bantam Books.
Maxwell, J. C. (2001). The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. Nashville, Tenesse, USA: Thomas Nelson.
Milne, A. (2014). Understanding Counselling. Euston Road, London: Hodder Education.
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.). One Montgomery Street, San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass.
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