“If speaking is silver, listening is gold”, so goes the saying. However, this ancient word of wisdom seems to have little to negligible relevance in our present day communication driven by technology and lack of patience! No wonder why terms like ‘miscommunication’ and ‘misinterpretation’ are commonplace in discussions of high school peer groups, brainstorming sessions at workplace or scholarly debates in a conference. The problem lies in speaking before listening or worse, speaking without listening. Often it is noted, both in workplace and/or academic presentation thata speaker is interrupted mid-way through her/his presentation with a question, comment or argument that underscores the failure of the interrupting audience to have grasped the idea of the speaker due to missing the ideas raised during the presentation. This is clearly due to lack of attention during listening and most often, the desire to retort and react rather than waiting to respond, patiently. In my opinion thus, active listening is the key to effective verbal communication and should be prioritized before speaking and presentation skills. Sadly, in most curriculum for effective communication, honing listening skills takes a backseat. In this article, I will discuss the impact and benefits of active listening in communication and analyze ways to develop effective listening skills.
What is active listening?
Introduced in the 1957 article and elaborated in the volume “Communicating in Business Today” in 1987, the term active listening is attributed to Carl Rogers and Richard Farson. Also called attentive listening, active listening involves attention, concentration and consideration of the speaker’s position. It involves the listeners participating in the communication actively and attentively, positively responding to the speaker by positive gestures and/or enthusiasm. However, as Rogers and Farson clarify, “Active listening does not necessarily mean long sessions spent listening to grievances…to be effective, active listening must be firmly grounded in the basic attitudes of the user”. Hence, the onus is on the listener who must be objective in approach and refrain from letting preconceived ideas regarding the speaker motivate listening habit. The 3 As of Active Listening, as widely agreed upon are:
Each of these components are integral to active listening and interdependent.
How to listen actively?
- From “know it all” to “listen it all”
- Be patient: Wait for the speaker to finish speaking. Do not interrupt before listening the full message
- Don’t be distracted: Pretentive or False listening where the listener pretends to listen to the speaker is actually harmful. Try not to be distracted when listening for a purpose.
- Empathise: Be empathetic to the speaker which in turn, will put the speaker at ease and help in the progress of the communication.
- Eye contact: Try to maintain eye contact with the speaker and enthusiastically respond to stressed ideas and comments.
- Be non-judgemental: Pre conceived ideas affect communication in deeper levels than seen. Biased views, ideas and prejudices direct the behavioural pattern of a listener
- Listen for the stress and pause: Only if listened actively can one not miss the key points and ideas in a speech.
- Don’t jump to conclusions
- Positive feedback: Listening actively and attentively enables a listener to not only grasp the ideas and understand them but respond better as well.
The ultimate goal
Well, as they say, a good speaker is at first, a good listener. One who listens attentively can form better understanding and can respond better. A study conducted by Doell in 2003 revealed that there are two distinct purposes for listening:
(a) Listen to respond
(b) Listen to understand
Interestingly, it was observed that those who listened to understand developed a better communicative skill than those who listened primarily to react and respond.
As a researcher as well as facilitator of English language and literature in the Undergraduate and Postgraduate level of studies, I have witnessed the role and benefits of active listening in classroom communication and categorized its impact in broader domains, at different levels. To quote a former student now placed in public speaking industry, “if there’s one thing that those listening activities in class did to me was shape me into who I am today. I speak because I listen”. The importance of listening is recognized in diverse arenas: from classroom lecture sessions, group discussion clubs to workplaces. One of the major reasons for this recognition is the role that active listening plays in team building and trust building. Listening consciously and attentively minimizes the risks of miscommunications and misunderstandings and thereby increases productivity.
Hence, in order to communicate effectively, interpersonally or in public forum, it is imperative that one develops the right listening habits, to understand that “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen (Churchill).”
School of Languages
KIIT Deemed to be University
Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India
Email: [email protected]