Listening Skills

What is listening?

Listening is not same as hearing. Hearing is the objective process of receiving auditory data. Listening is much more; it is the subjective process that involves the interpretation of many sensory cues in order to understand what another person is trying to communicate.

Listening is a process of receiving, interpreting and reacting to the messages received from the communication sender. Effective listening is an art of communication, which is often taken for granted and ignored. Like any other art, listening require to be cultivated consciously and carefully.

Poor listening can be considered, as a mighty barrier to communication as listening is fundamental to all communication. It often results in losing messages due to improper functioning of communication. Listening require conscious efforts of interpreting the sounds, grasping the meanings of the words and reacting to the message. Interpreting the sound signals is a cognitive act, which depends on the listener’s knowledge of the code signals and on its attitude towards the communication sender.

Studies have shown that listening is the most frequent aspect of workplace communication (Adler and Elmhorst, 1999). Other studies have identified that managers spend 65-90% of their working day listening to someone, with the percentage of time increasing with level of managerial responsibility (Kotler, 1982, Nichols & Stevens, 1990). However, research suggests that misunderstandings are the rule rather than the exception and that people generally achieve no more than 25-50% accuracy in interpreting the meaning of each other’s remarks Spitzberg, 1994). Becoming fully proficient at listening would therefore seem to have significant influence on workplace communication and related effectiveness.

Active listening process begins when the listener pays attention to some audible sound signals and permits himself to interpret those sounds cognitively. It is a conscious process. Every human being possesses the ability to select from the sounds around him. But the selective listening is not an automatic process like that of hearing. An individual may hear many sounds but he may listen to none of them.

Effective listening is a specific skill that can be consciously developed and practiced in various workplace situations, whether a meeting, supervision session, telephone conversation or chance meeting in the corridor. Listening is not simply a matter of hearing. Listening is an active psychological rather than passive process, which enables us to attach meaning to all the information we receive. It requires concentration and effort.

Types of listening

We may ‘sit back’ and listen to a song sung by a little girl or to the music on a radio broadcast, but when we are to take part in communication, it is necessary to ‘sit up’ and listen carefully. It would be improper to think about how we get other people to listen to us, but it would be certainly advisable to think about how we can get ourselves to listen to others patiently and carefully because half-listening is likely to result in misunderstanding and loss of time. This is called active listening. The listener, who asked questions and comments on the views of the speaker, encourages the speaker to express his ideas fully and enthusiastically.

While listening, it is essential to concentrate on what a person is saying, but it would be wrong to neglect his ‘looks’ because his ‘looks’ can supply us with physical and non-verbal signs. Though non -verbal signs give us reliable information, the listener should not be carried away with the thoughts on the physical appearance of the speaker. The listener must understand properly the feelings and sentiments of the speaker. Usually we listen with interest the message, which is to our advantage, but we should take equal interest in the speeches, which consist of a message to the advantage of the speaker.

When it is possible to hear a message clearly without any physical distraction, the listener must become active in attending the message. If noises interfere with the physical reception of the message, the listener has to prepare his mind to concentrate on the selected signals and should not allow himself to be distracted by the noises. In such situation, a good listener has to exercise a good deal of mental discipline over himself in order to concentrate properly on the message being transmitted by the speaker. A careful listener never jumps to conclusions about what the speaker says till the latter completes his message.

The non- active listeners are poor listeners who remember the specific facts presented by the speaker and tend to forget the central idea. The tired, bored and lazy listeners may pretend to be attentive by their postures as they usually rest their chin on hand or bend forward in the chair or show that they really pay attention to the talk, but in fact, they may get occupied with some other thoughts. They may drift away in pondering over their personal problems and worries.

Some of the listeners pretend to listen as they make notes, read mail and do other petty routine activities. But, effective listening should not be considered as an easy and passive encounter. The non-active listener sometimes avoids the message if he feels it difficult to be understood or too hard to be followed. The listener requires mental preparedness and energy to concentrate on the message and on the non-verbal communication like body movement, postures, gestures, etc.


Developing Listening Skills

Developing effective listening skills involves two specific steps (Hartley & Bruckman, 2002). These are:

  1. 1.    To develop the ability to recognise and deal with barriers that prevents you listening with full attention.
  2. 2.    To develop and use behaviours which help you to listen. Such behaviours can also serve to let the other person know that you are giving them your full attention.


Effective listening skills

The receiver should carefully listen to the message to feel the pulse of the sender, to understand the mood and reactions and to create a congenial atmosphere for listening, which allows freedom of expression the speaker. Lack of good listening can create the embarrassing situations, which result in the lack of co -ordination and mutual understanding. A manager, who listens to the employees, gives them an opportunity to vent out their emotions. Effective listening also helps the managers to get the constructive suggestions from the employees. There is greater harmony and cohesion if the sender and the receiver listen to each other messages effectively. It can raise their morale and create togetherness.

Robert Bolton, offers three “clusters” of skills that are involved in listening. These broad clusters are Attending Skills, Following Skills, and Reflecting Skills.

Attending Skills

  • A Posture of Involvement
  • Appropriate Body Motion
  • Eye Contact
  • Non-distracting Environment

Following Skills

  • Door Openers
  • Minimal Encourages
  • Infrequent Questions
  • Attentive Silence

Reflecting Skills

  • Paraphrasing
  • Reflecting Feelings
  • Reflecting Meanings
  • Summative Reflections



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