Are We Communicating More and Listening Less?

Post written by Warren. Follow him on Twitter.

Are you hearing or listening?

Are you hearing or listening?

It’s a well-recognized fact that good communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, both personal and professional.

These days there are more ways to communicate than at any other time in history, from phones to instant messaging to e-mail to Internet posts and blogging.  Despite the increased amount of communication that’s taking place around us, most people still have problems communicating on a person-to-person level.  This is evidenced by the fact that communication is still one of the most frequently mentioned issues in marriages, families, between friends and on the job.

A lot of attention is given to improving speaking abilities, but the importance of having effective listening skills is often overlooked.  Effective listening involves more than just hearing what’s being said – it means that the speaker’s words are being absorbed and that we’re focused on discovering the underlying meaning of the message.

Most people don’t think they have a problem with their listening skills.  After all, they take in the sounds around them.  The error here is mistaking hearing for listening. Anyone with good hearing can take in sounds.  Good listening refers to how well we extract meaning from sound.  Successful communication requires the transfer of meaning.  Not being an effective listener can block this transfer.

Barriers to Effective Listening

Effective listening involves grasping what a speaker is trying to communicate.  Several listening habits can get in the way of effective listening, and most of us are guilty of these habits at one time or another.

  • Interrupting to finish a sentence or disagree. Cutting off a speaker to finish their sentence or to disagree with them shows a lack of respect.  Interrupting to disagree is also a sign of a closed mind, as if nothing the speaker can say will make a difference in our opinion.  Although it may be difficult to let someone speak until they’re finished, it’s a good way to build and maintain healthy relationships.
  • Interrupting to offer a solution. Unless the speaker has asked for a solution to a problem, it’s better just to listen.  Even if the speaker is complaining, it may just be venting and a solution isn’t sought.  Listening in this case is a form of moral support.  If you really want to give advice, wait until the speaker is done talking or bring it up at a different time.
  • Trying to impress the speaker. When someone is telling a story, it can be annoying if the listener then tries to “top it.”  This shows an ulterior motive of trying to impress rather than just listening.  Sometimes the only way to break this habit is to develop an awareness of the problem and monitor yourself.  Decide that you don’t always need to show that you have a better story, and focus instead on what the speaker is saying.

These are just a few examples of how poor listening habits can hamper personal communication.  Other poor listening habits that interfere with our ability to communicate include becoming distracted, tuning out, or letting your facial expressions and body language express negativity when someone else is speaking.

Becoming an Effective Listener

Overcoming bad habits and learning to listen effectively requires focus and practice.  We’re not born with the ability to listen effectively, but we can learn this skill.  One of the first challenges to meet is changing your attitude about listening.  Unless you have a desire to listen to others and to get to know them better by listening to what they have to say, you won’t be an effective listener.  When someone engages you in conversation, decide that you want to listen and then look and act interested.

Here are 10 additional tips for effective listening:

  • Eye Contact. Look directly at the speaker and make eye contact.  Listen with your eyes as well as your ears and watch for nonverbal signals about the speaker’s state of mind.
  • Nonverbal Communication. Be aware of your own nonverbal communication.  What mood are you conveying while the speaker is talking?  Do you convey a feeling of being open, or are you expressing boredom or disapproval?
  • Gestures. Use gestures to show that you’re interested in what the speaker is saying.  Lean forward, nod or smile to show you’re absorbed in the speaker’s message.  Make appropriate verbal responses without interrupting.
  • Cut External Distractions. If the speaker wants your full attention, then minimize distractions.  Turn off the TV, look away from the computer and put away the cell phone — really focus in on listening.
  • Cut Internal Distractions. Also minimize internal distractions.  Don’t allow an interior monologue to take your attention away from the speaker’s message.
  • Open Your Mind. Keep an open mind while the speaker is talking.  Try to reserve judgment until you’ve heard everything.
  • Change Your Perspective. Try to see things from the speaker’s point of view.  Having empathy for other people is an important way to connect with them.
  • Stop Competing. Conversation doesn’t have to be competitive.  Be aware of times when you’re dominating the conversation or turning it into a game of one-upsmanship.
  • Hold Back on Advice. In most cases, it’s best not to offer advice unless it’s asked for.  Sometimes people just need to vent and they’ll appreciate you all the more for listening.
  • Sprinkle Comments. When the speaker is done talking, make a comment or ask a question that shows you were listening.  If you immediately launch into another subject, they’ll doubt that you understood or cared about what they were trying to communicate.

  • Studies have shown that about 85% of our knowledge is obtained by listening. This means that effective listening is one of the most important life skills that you can learn.  It’s also one of the most important relationship skills.  With effective listening, you can become closer to people, understand their feelings and needs, and have an important tool for resolving conflict.  As you become a more effective listener, you’ll find yourself becoming more connected to others.  Isn’t that what communication is all about?

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   -Maya Angelou-


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    Posted on September 28, 2009

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