Communication is considered as one of the most important skills that any humans have. Basically, an individual spends most of his or her time using one or more of the basic communication processes which include writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Each of the said communication process is critical in establishing interpersonal relationships. One study noted that most of the waking hours of humans are spent in communicating by learning to read and write, while the additional years are spent in learning how to effectively speak (Covey, 1989 cited in Rynders, 1999).
However, majority of individuals have little knowledge and training when it comes to understanding other points of view, and this is due in part to one’s inability to listen effectively. Importance of Listening It has been well established that listening is of crucial importance during the process of interpersonal interaction. In order for communication to take place, sending and receiving signals should be properly identified by both the sender and the receiver.
Likewise, in order to properly respond to the messages being given out, it is important to pay attention to those messages so that one would be able to draw rightful responses to the relayed information (Hargie, Saunders, & Dickson, 1994). An individual’s capability to listen affects the effectiveness of the activities that he or she engages with. Even so, listening impacts the quality of relationship that one has with another individual (Mind Tools, 2008). The significance of listening has been well recognized and well written in various studies.
It has been found that an average individual does not actually speak for long periods each day, and several researches have proven that listening is the most predominant form of communication activity practiced by majority of individuals. Additional research also reveals that 45% of human communication time goes to listening, 30% is spent in speaking, and 16% and 9% are spent in reading and writing respectively (Smith, 1986 cited in Hargie, Saunders, & Dickson, 1994).
Aside from the fact that listening is the most frequently utilized form of communication, it was also regarded that listening is the most important communication skill for people including supervisors, subordinates, entry-level workers, and managers. Likewise, it is also seen as an imperative skill in various dimensions like productivity, career and job success, communication training, upward mobility and the effectiveness of an organization (Adler, Rosenfeld, & Proctor, 2004).
Despite all these, the skill of listening is still very much ignored in various areas; as a result, more and more people are becoming poor listeners which could eventually lead to struggles in understanding discussions, seminars, lectures and meetings. To quote one expert: “Communication isn’t just speaking and writing. The forgotten part of it for most people… is listening. Studies have shown that a large percentage of people listen less effectively than they believe, and many are poor listeners” (Axley, 1996, p. 77 cited in Rynders, 1999, p.
7). This statement is backed up by a study noting that among the people who were asked to rate themselves in terms of their listening skills, only 5% excellently rate themselves, while more than 85% indicated that they are average or worse (Atwater, 1992 cited in Rynders, 1999). In addition, it was noted in another study that people only able to recall 25% to 50% of what they hear. Hence, when people listen to a speaker for 10 minutes, the listener only absorbs two and a half to five minutes of the entire conversation.
As such, this is a clear indication that many people do not have a systematic approach towards listening, making them appear as poor listeners (Mind Tools, 2008). Stages of listening In order to ensure higher degree of listening, a person must practice a systematic approach that would allow him or her to become an effective listener. However, effective listening skills can only be attained if an individual would be able to understand the listening processes. It is important to note that listening is far more complicated than hearing.
While almost anyone is able to hear, listening is a complicated process which involves a lot of determination and attention. Listening can be summarized into five stages or process. The first stage involves receiving or hearing the sounds in ones surroundings. Hearing involves accuracy in receiving sounds. It is said that in order to hear, an individual should have his or her attention to the speaker and learn how to differentiate sounds. However, hearing is considered to be a “limited physiological process of receiving and processing sounds” (Fujishin, 2007, p.
55). Understanding the message being disseminated is the second stage of listening. Understanding is contemplated as a vital part in the listening process because this is the point where the listener comprehends the message of the speaker. One’s ability to understand what they hear can be further improved through practice. This is so because most of the process of comprehension is said to be interpersonal, meaning the activity is taking place within the head of the listener (“Listening for Main Idea,” 2008). Remembering is the third stage in the listening process.
Much has been written about the human memory. In order to further understand the relationship between listening and memory, a person should know the difference between short-term and long-term memory. Short term memory is the information that individuals use promptly. Such memory lasts for only a few seconds and can be forgotten easily due to its susceptibility to interruptions. For instance, a person is talking over the phone and the individual on the other line gives a phone number. The listener has the tendency to remember the number during the spur of the moment.
However, later on, the amount of information that can be retained from the conversation, which includes the number, is limited. Meanwhile, long-term memory allows a person to recall information that occurred during the past. Such information can be songs that an individual knew during the heydays or the sound of voice of a person that is very close to the individual. Such memories are already installed in the memory for long periods of time, and with the right stimulus, can cause those memories to be remembered once again.
Hence, remembering things can only become essential if a person has the tendency to apply what he or she has heard for future purposes (Kline, 1996). The fourth stage involved in the process of listening is evaluation. Every individual listens from their own unique point of view that are filtered and influenced by aspects like attitudes, past experiences, personal values and the likes. Therefore, almost everything that an individual hears undergoes the process of evaluation.
The conclusions that an individual can draw from a conversation that he or she engages in are said to be essential for as long as the individual understands certain factors and principles that may affect his or her own perception. In this regard, effective listeners can be viewed as those people who know how to reduce the influence that will benefit their own point of view until the time that they have fully understood the ideas of the speaker. Hence, evaluations should be formulated according to the things that are within the context of the conversation and prejudgments should be avoided (“Listening for Main Idea,” 2008).
Responding is the final stage of listening. Although the process of listening may end with understanding, effective communication and listening are identified as processes involving accuracy and understanding of messages. Hence, response is often acknowledged to play an important role in both processes. Responding to the discussion may be done through asking questions and sending feedbacks to the speaker. In this sense, the listener informs the speaker that the message was received and understood.
The listener can use various types of responses in order to acknowledge the speaker’s perspectives. Responses can be a direct verbal response which can be delivered in a written or spoken format such as if a speaker asked a question the listener would respond based from what he or she understood from the discussion. Responses may also come in the form of seeking clarifications, whereby the listener can ask for additional information regarding the topic or points out some unclear messages by telling words like “please explain this point further.
” The listener can also paraphrase responses by saying something like “so you are trying to point out that…” Paraphrases can be considered as an opportunity for the speaker or the sender of the message to agree or disagree to the listener’s view. Likewise, it serves as a ground for the speaker to provide information that will clarify the message. Non-verbal responses are oftentimes the most acknowledged form of response. Sometimes, they are even considered as the most preferred form of response. Nodding one’s head, a knowing smile, or a thumbs up may be an indication that the message being disseminated is well understood (Kline, 1996).
Despite the clarity of the process, many people tend to overlook some of the important stages of listening like understanding and evaluating. The neglect often results in the failure of the whole communication process. Understanding the process or stages of listening could help an individual to improve his or her listening skills. However, it is also an imperative that an individual recognizes his or her own style of listening. Basically there are two kinds of listening: passive and active. Passive listening is the process where individuals absorb the delivered message without further involving themselves in the given spoken language.
More often than not, listeners who practice this type of listening do not engage themselves in discussions. They tend to overlook the messages being sent. On the other hand, active listening is the process that is considered as dynamic where the listener actively participates in the discussion and is properly practicing the process of communication. With interactive listening, the communication process is appropriately facilitated, and the relationship between the speaker and the listener is developed (Mind Tools, 2008).
Although it is apparent that active listening is much better compared to passive listening, it should be well understood that effective listening constitutes more than active listening. It involves a combination of several types of listening: Empathic and objective listening, nonjudgmental and critical listening, surface and depth listening, and active and inactive listening. Styles of Effective Listening Empathic and Objective Listening Empathic and objective listening refers to the extent where the listener focuses on the feelings of the speaker in order to understand what the speaker is trying to explain.
By assessing the feelings of the speaker, the listener can measure the meanings of things that are against his or her objective reality. By doing so, it can be regarded that listening and feeling, when combined together, promotes the understanding of human nature. Such style of listening can be done through punctuating things based on the speaker’s perspective, engaging in two-way conversation, mutual understanding of ideas and emotions, avoiding listening to information that would persuade the listener to attack the speaker, and striving for objectivity even though the listener is listening to a friend or a foe (Devito, 2004).
Nonjudgmental and Critical Listening Nonjudgmental and critical listening refers to the involvement of open mindedness within the context of communication. Effective listening should involve learning to understand the message by accepting and supporting the speaker through open mindedness. Once the listener is able to put himself in the position of the speaker, he or she may begin evaluating things and form an opinion based on the speaker’s perspective. Likewise, in this style of listening, the listener can avoid prejudgments which are deemed as a factor for the failure of the whole communication process (Devito, 2004).
Surface and Depth Listening Surface and depth listening is an action where the listener gives emphasis on seeking deeper meaning behind the given messages. People who practice this form of listening understand that messages contain “more than one level of meaning” (Devito, 2004, n. p. ). In order to increase one’s ability in performing surface and depth listening, the listener should: “be sensitive to the different levels of meanings,” give importance on messages may it be verbal or non-verbal in form, listen to the message’s content and relational perspective (Devito, 2004, n. p. ). Active and Inactive Listening
Active and inactive listening refers to the extent where the listener reflects back on the messages that the listener thinks the speaker is implying, both in terms of content and feelings instead of repeating the exact words that came from the speaker’s mouth. In this style, the listener can put on new meanings that are related to the speaker’s message (Devito, 2004). Gender and Listening Gender is said to be a significant factor in assessing various activities. It has been said that “there is no profession that escapes the probability of interacting with the opposite sex” (Nelson, 2002, n. p. ).
Thus, it should be well understood that effective working relationships and communication can be determined by ones capability to interact with the opposite sex. Men and women communicate differently; the same thing applies with their listening skills. Generally, women are regarded as the better listeners because of their engagement in empathic listening. There are many instances when both men and women disclose themselves with a woman rather than a man because of a woman’s ability to empathize. For this reason, it has been well documented that more people choose women to listen to their issues.
Hence, women can be perceived to listen with two ears which function differently. The first ear is for the content of the message, and the other ear is geared to listening to the socio-emotional aspects of the other person. When women listen, they give specific listening reactions. Likewise, they articulate every aspect of the conversation and create assumptions and conclusions about the emotional state of the speaker. In contrast, men are contemplated to be listening with one ear. This means that they only hear the content of the message. Due to this, men are able to recall in verbatim and repeat the points given by the speaker.
However, unlike women, they are not engaged in the socio-emotional aspects of the conversation, and for the most part, they generally disregard the said aspect which often results in miscommunications. In addition, men listen and respond in a goal-oriented manner. Hence, they want things to be direct to the point, and they are ready to spring into action in order to reach the goal they have already set in mind, whereas women will not immediately care about solutions; rather, they would look for someone that could empathize with them (Nelson, 2002).
Generally, listening is one of the most important forms of communication skills. Although people first learn their listening skills compared to other forms of communication skills, it has been well documented that listening is often overlooked, and because of this negligence, many people are suffering from practicing poor listening habits. It may take a lot of time in order to perfect one’s effective listening skills. However, it should be taken into consideration that developing effective listening skills takes a lot of determination and concentration.
Moreover, in order to achieve such effectiveness, there should be an understanding that each person employs different types of listening styles. Thus, by focusing on that particular personal style and by continuously acknowledging the right listening process, the possibility of developing the effective listening skills can be easily attained.
Adler, R. B. , Rosenfeld, L. B. , & Proctor, R. F. (2004). Interplay: The process of Interpersonal communication. New York: Oxford University Press. Devito, J. A.(2008). Listening and interpersonal communication. University of Georgia. Retrieved December 8, 2008 from http://killianj. myweb. uga. edu/listening%20notes. html Fujishin, R. (2007). Creating Effective Groups: The Art of Small Group Communication. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Hargie, O. , Saunders, C. , & Dickinson, D. (1994). Social Skills in Interpersonal Communication. New York, NY: Routledge. Kline, J. A. (1996). Listening effectively. Maxwell-Gunter AFB. Retrieved December 8, 2008 from http://www.
au. af. mil/au/awc/awcgate/kline-listen/b10ch3. htm Listening for main idea. (2008). Tripod. Retrieved December 8, 2008 from http://it40106. tripod. com/page2. htm. Nelson, A. (2002). Listening Between the Lines. Boulder, CO: Nelson communication. Mind Tools. (2008). Active Listening. Retrieved December 8, 2008 from http://www. mindtools. com/CommSkll/ActiveListening. htm Rynders, G. L. (1999 January). Listening and Leadership: A Study on Their Relationship. Sandy, Utah: National Fire Academy.