Listening Skills for Successful Communication

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When asked to define communication, most people describe talking.  When we talk, it is because we have a thought, idea or feeling that we want to share with someone. In order to have communication, both listening and speaking are necessary. In my mind, listening is as important as speaking. People should recognize the importance of listening and learn the art of active listening. Speaking plays a vital role in our lives. We can express our thoughts, desires, feelings, ideas and requests. Nevertheless, speaking represents only half of the communication process. The other half is listening. Effective communication requires being both a good, considerate speaker and an active listener. Thoughtful and subtle speakers think how they say something, when they say it and why they say it. On the other hand, active listeners hear, comprehend and understand the message and they focus both on words and the emotions expressed. We can all benefit from practicing active listening at home or at work. It is very important when we discuss difficult situations. The aim in our interpersonal communication shouldn`t be to win, it should be more to understand and to make sure each really hears what the other is trying to say. When we don`t listen carefully, we discourage others from attempting to share with us again. Some authors point out that :

You  show respect and honor to a person when you`re listening. It also demonstrates you think what they are saying is important. You may be validating the person by listening to them. Did you ever think you may be building someone`s self-confidence by listening. It could be.(Marks, 2006:1).

 

In my opinion active listening is a very complex skill. Many people do not think so and that`s why they are very bad listeners. Mastering the art of effective listening skills will make you more successful in almost every aspect of your life- from friendships, romantic relationships, family matters to professional careers. When your friends, family members and colleagues notice that you are really listening to them, they feel understood, cared for and more important. However, it is not always easy to listen carefully. It seems to me that everyone wants to speak and nobody wants to listen.

I have met a lot of self-absorbed people who love to talk and they usually fail to listen because they are too busy trying to get their point across. It is very difficult to be around people like that.  Everybody can be sometimes preoccupied and worried and not listening, or just pretending to listen. Sometimes you think that you know what the speaker wants to say and you are too impatient to let her finish saying what she intended. You try to complete the sentence for her or you interrupt her. But you can overcome this barrier by giving the speaker a chance to fully express her opinions and feelings.

You have to keep in mind that your goal is only listening and that a good listener tries to perceive and understand something new. If you while listening offer your solution of the speaker`s problem, you are implying that you are more intelligent and more capable of solving the problem than the speaker is. It is impolite to offer advice when the speaker isn`t asking for it.  Sometimes a person just needs to be heard before she is willing to consider an alternative. You can find a way of dealing with this obstacle if you first ask if you may offer what you see as a sensible solution. Another obstacle to effective listening is competitive or combative listening. In other words, some people are too proud to admit that they were wrong about something and to agree with the speaker. This problem can be solved if you express agreement whenever you really agree and say precisely what you disagree with. It also helps identify areas of agreement so the areas of disagreement are put in perspective and are diminished rather than magnified.  All in all, a good listener should be generous with the speaker and voice exactly where she agrees or disagrees.  

There is another source of difficulty by the listener. A listener who has a hidden motive (to impress or influence the speaker), will probably be so interested in what he (she) has to say, that he/she will think about his own rebuttal while listening. This kind of listening happens when we are more interested in promoting our own point of view than in understanding someone else`s view. It is extremely hard to overcome this difficulty, because people are usually not aware of their ulterior motives. Nevertheless, most of us become eventually more conscious of our hidden motives and when that happens, we will concentrate on understanding the speaker. Reacting to “red flag” words presents a source of difficulty to the listener as well. These words can make almost everyone incapable to hear and understand correctly the speaker because they trigger strong associations in the listener`s mind.

However, this barrier can be overcome too. We can stop the conversation and ask for clarification and explanation of the point in a different way. Believing in the precision of words is another significant barrier to good listening. Words can be interpreted in more than one way. Surface meaning of the words doesn`t contain absolute meaning. We all act and respond on the basis of understanding, and too often there is a misunderstanding that neither of us is aware of. How the word is finally understood depends on many factors. In order to overcome this barrier, you should check out your understanding by asking the speaker supporting questions. If you are confused and you don`t understand, either tell the person you don`t understand or ask him/her to say it in another way.

There is another source of difficulty by the listener which is usually called “mixing up the forest and the trees”. Listening effectively is difficult because some people pay too much attention to detail and they miss the total meaning or context of a situation. They make the message too complex by including too many unnecessary details. On the other hand, some people explain complicated situations by giving sweeping, abstract view. Both methods for delivering the message are barriers to good listening.

“Trees” people often find it difficult to tell their listeners which of the details are more important. Listeners generally don`t comprehend how all those details fit into the overall context. “Forest” people usually perplex their listener with abstractions which are not easily understood. But a good listener can overcome this barrier as well. Communication with “tree” people can be clarified by asking the speaker how the details fit together in the whole picture. Communication with “forest” people can be clarified by asking the open-ended questions such as “Would you give me an example of that?”

Another barrier to effective listening is called “over-splitting or over-lumping”. “Splitters” think critically and when explaining something, they generally emphasize how things are different. “Lumpers” think methaphorically and when explaining something, they generally point out how things are similar. An approach to overcoming this obstacle when listening is to check out your understanding and to ask questions before you respond. If we listen and ask questions so we can accurately understand the other`s view, we can create a more precise mental model of the speaker`s mind.  Some authors emphasize that there is one easy way to become an effective listener. When listening to someone, you should use the acronym HEAR. HEAR stands for helpful, empathic, attentive and responsive listener:

H  stands for being helpful to the speaker so he or she would be able to

communicate more effectively.

E  is for empathy. Empathy is genuinely understanding and caring for the other person.

A  is for attentiveness. Attentiveness is demonstrating your understanding of the other person.

R  is for responsiveness. Responsiveness means not only showing your understanding, but also that you act actively responding, verbally and nonverbally, to the person and to the topic. (Obermever, 2006:2) .

 

My best friend is a very honest, loving, curious, and open-minded person and that`s why she is a good listener. She has been my best friend for several years and when I met her for the first time in high school, I simply knew that we were on the same wavelength. We see each other almost every day and when I talk to her, I feel understood and cared for. Whenever I am upset about something, she is always ready to listen to me. I derive comfort from her compassion and from her recognition of the validity of my feelings. She always says something that makes feel better. For instance:” Sounds like you are really upset by this, but believe  me, everything is going to be all right.” When I talk to her about my thoughts and beliefs, she tries to understand what I intend to say.  She often repeats what I say in her own words, without adding anything. Last week, I was telling her about my parents and their relationship and she said:”If I am following you, you are wondering how your mother`s decision will affect your father and your family.”She clarified our communication and helped me clarify my thoughts.

When I explain to her a complicated situation, she asks for help when she gets lost in a conversation and she asks relevant, open-ended questions beginning with “what”, “why”, “where”, “how” or “please describe”. While we communicate, I always feel important and respected because I know that while she is listening to me, she is paying complete attention. She always understands my point of view and helps me see the flaws in my position. She spots the mistakes in my reasoning and states them without criticism.

For instance, I was complaining about my brother`s attitude towards me and she said:” You mentioned talking with him about that last week. Are you going to do something, or just let it go? What might be some other options?” This questions provoked me to think more deeply about my relationship with my brother and made me see this problem more clearly. She is very subtle person and she always asks whether I am willing to hear her opinion. She lets it go if I respond with “no”. If I respond with “yes”, she expresses her thoughts, ideas and feelings. Both of us listen to each other. And we listen to understand, to learn and for enjoyment. 

My best friend always avoids conflicts and misunderstandings. She is able to influence, persuade and negotiate. Everybody likes her because she tries to respond to the speaker in a way that will encourage him or her to continue speaking. I used to watch her while she was listening to other pupils in our class and I noticed several things: she looks at the speaker directly, she smiles and nods occasionally, she doesn`t interrupt the speaker and she treats the other person as she would want to be treated. 

When she answers, her responses are kind, open and honest and she asserts her opinions respectfully. She was the best pupil in our class. She listened to our teachers and didn`t allow to become distracted by other things that were going on around her or to lose focus on what they were saying. She has never tried to form counter arguments while listening or to make other person stop speaking. I admire her and I am very proud because she`s my best friend. She always creates good and lasting impression with others. It seems to me that she is a good listener because she is a wise person who understands human beings and human nature. We often ask ourselves:”How do you obtain the wisdom?” In my opinion, it`s probably part luck and part hard work and dedication. However, she`s got it, and it is obvious to everyone.

All things considered, listening is a skill we can all benefit from improving. It is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationship with others. Active listening has several benefits: it saves time; it helps you asses a situation accurately, it helps speakers clarify what they are saying and makes them feel heard and it reduces emotions that block clear thinking. When we listen to others, we have to force ourselves to remember the basic truth about life. We have to consciously look for something meaningful in whatever somebody is saying. And if we look hard enough, we will always find something wise and worthwhile lurking there somewhere.

In other words, we have to develop the ability to listen with respect. Most people aren`t going to think, feel and reason just like we do. For instance, parents often make mistake of listening and talking with their children as if they were “little adults”. But children don`t think, feel and reason like we do. If we don`t remind ourselves of these essential differences, we won`t be able to communicate with children successfully. Real listening to human beings involves getting sense of who they are, how they view life, what they want to accomplish, what concerns they have, how they are feeling and what they are afraid of. It also involves “listening” to what people aren`t directly saying. Our friends or partners may drop subtle hints that we have done something wrong.

The more we train ourselves to ‘listen’ for this subtle signs of trouble, the better we will appreciate what`s going on for other people. If we genuinely seek to understand others, we will win our friends, improve our family relationships and advance our careers. Being a great listener can make people feel good being with you.

Bibliography

Marks, Elizabeth. (2006). Effective Listening Skills-How to Become a Good Listener. Retrived April 2. 2010. from http://ezinearticles.com/?Effective-Listening-Skills---How-to-Become-a-Good-Listener&id=372221

Obermever, Marlene. (2006).  Listening Effectively: How to become a new and improved listener. Retrived April 2. 2010. from http://www.buzzle.com./editorials/2-8-2006-88421.asp  

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