People communicate for various purposes and varied reasons. Since humans have been communicating since their early years, they assume they already know how to listen as it is a very simple thing to do – one person speaks and the other hears and responds. Nevertheless, there is a huge difference between hearing and listening as hearing is the physical perception of sound while listening is hearing, seeing, comprehending, and interpreting combined (Batell, 2006). Listening is an especially crucial skill that one needs to develop in this diverse and competitive modern world. Thus, effective listening is key to being successful in interpersonal dealings, academic success, and professional or workplace growth and advancement.
- Listening to Non-Native Language
Because of global economic success and opportunities, more and more foreigners are enticed to come to the United States for business, travel, and education. As native speakers of the English language, “the American communicator should be patient, be quiet, and listen!” (Purdy & Borisoff, 1997, 98). These foreigners opt to speak the English language in an effort to communicate to native speakers, hence, sensitivity is deemed necessary. For instance, when one continuously interrupts or completes the sentences of a non-native speaker, he or she is displaying impatience, which makes the foreigners even more nervous and uncertain of themselves. Thus, for effective communication, listening to the entire message before responding is required. Moreover, emphatic listening, which pertains to understanding fully the speaker’s message without judging his intellect on how clearly he speaks, is also necessary. Listening not only to the verbal messages but also to non-verbal cues is also significant. Awareness of body or hand movements to complement or substitute for words; vocalics such as pauses, accents, intonation, pitch, inflection, and silence; and haptics or touch orientation are thus important. Moreover, listening to non-native speakers also entail understanding that their cognitive processes may vary. Likewise, preconceived notions, biases, or stereotypes should be erased from one’s head in cross-cultural listening. Listening with an open mind and with recognition that “what is different is not wrong” (Purdy & Borisoff, 1997, 99) is also important for cross cultural understanding to take place. When these considerations are put into practical application, not only will one sharpen his or her listening skills but will also improve his or her intercultural adaptation and adjustment.
- Untrained versus Trained Listener
Listening is a communication skill used most frequently. Numerous studies have claimed the importance of this skill as evidenced by 45 percent of humans’ waking hours spent in listening, compared to 30 percent speaking, 16 percent reading, and nine percent writing. Nevertheless, studies have also showed that most people are poor listeners. One of the reasons pointed out is the lack of listening training available. Even though it is the most used communication skill, most people have had more academic training in the skills of writing, speaking, and reading. In addition, there are also few workshops and conferences that could develop stronger listening skills (University of Missouri Extension, 1993).
Moreover, majority of people are inefficient listeners. This is based on studies that reveal that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has only heard, understood, and retained 50 percent of what was tackled; 48 hours after, 25 percent of this is already lost (University of Missouri Extension, 1993; Zimmerman, 2004; Holmes, 2010). Thus, the average untrained listener is left with only 25 percent of what was said, with this very little information either incomplete or incorrect (Holmes, 2010) and with which majority of his or her time was wasted daydreaming or thinking of his or her response (Zimmerman, 2004).
In the area of negotiating alone, a trained listener will likely get the deal because of his or her effective listening and information deciphering skills throughout the process, thereby allowing him or her to possess the business advantage. This person understands that talking is not everything and that in fact, gathering information and insight on what will motivate the other party to act and do business through active and effective listening is crucial. An untrained listener on the other hand will fall into the trap of talking majority of the time, which would most likely end up in failed negotiations. Hence, for negotiations to be bear fruitful results, adequate training in listening is necessary.
- Powerful Listening Skills
Though there is little opportunity available for one to improve his or her listening skills, countless literature and self-help written materials have been designed to strengthen one’s listening skills. Few of the basic skills that an effective listener needs to possess are: desire to become a better listener, learning when to talk, making eye contact with the speaker, leaving emotions and prejudices behind, getting rid of distractions, getting to the main point, avoidance of arguing mentally, avoidance of jumping into conclusions and quick judgments, and listening also to those that are not said (College of Saint Benedict, 2010).
In addition, the power of note taking also helps improve listening and memory retention especially for students. Professor Walter Pauk of Cornell University enumerated the five important R’s of note taking. These are 1). recording or getting the main ideas; 2) reducing or summarizing key points and terms; 3) reciting or reviewing of notes immediately after the discussion; 4) reflecting or thinking about the ideas presented instead of just reading or memorizing them, and 5) reviewing or referring back to the notes in the proper time and with the right purpose (as cited in College of Saint Benedict, 2010).
In addition, four important skills were also mentioned by Women in Businessin 1994. First, assisting the speaker by using openers that will allow him or her to start, such as “Tell me what is on your mind;” utilizing encouragers to show interest such as the phrase, “That is interesting;” asking open-ended questions rather than yes-or-no questions; and utilizing “involved silence” by keeping eye contact, avoiding interrupting the speaker, and waiting for him or her to finish. Second skill involves listening with one’s whole body. This can be done by six techniques, which include leaning towards the speaker, maintaining involved and appropriate posture, smiling properly, avoiding physical barriers that hinder communication, maintaining eye contact 60 percent of the time, and incorporating non-distracting movements such as nods. Third is acting as a mirror for the speaker by rephrasing his or her statements to ensure that both are on the same page. Fourth and final skill is dealing properly with sight, sound, or sensation distractions.
Furthermore, author Madelyn Burley-Allen added a few more guidelines for effective emphatic listening. These includes fostering a positive atmosphere by being attentive, not asking too many questions that would make the speaker feel that he or she is being grilled, avoiding stock phrases such as “It is not that bad,” or “You will feel better soon,” allowing oneself to be involved in an argument without getting angry, indicating that one is listening through providing of noncommittal remarks, and a some do not’s, namely, interrupting, changing the topic or moving to another subject, rehearsing in one’s head, interrogating, teaching, and giving advice (as cited in Salem, 2003).
Moreover, Guffey (2008) listed other powerful listening skills that are applicable in one’s work performance. These include controlling internal and external distractions, becoming actively involved in the conversation, separating facts from opinions, capitalizing on lag time by reviewing the speaker’s points, and being aware of gender differences.
- Workplace Listening
For over 50 years now, researchers and business professionals alike have claimed the significance of effective listening as an important skill in the workplace (as cited in Flyn, Valikoski, & Grau). In the business world alone, poor listening skills equate to increased cost and low performance. These result to wasted meeting and tasks time; inaccuracy in orders and shipments; lost of sales; poorly informed or misinformed, confused, or angry employees and clients; failure in meeting deadlines and solving problems; coming up with wrong decisions, facing lawsuits, and employees’ low morale. On the other hand, effective listening skills results in productivity, excellent performance, collaboration, innovation, sharing, and smooth relations (Batell, 2006).
Moreover, in the workplace, an employee may be involved in various types of listening. These include listening to superiors, to colleagues, to team members, and to customers. Listening to superiors is one of the primary tasks that an employee should learn as he or she should know how to listen and understand instructions, explanations, and tasks about how to do his or her job. In doing so, an employee should avoid or combat noisy environment and other less important responsibilities or distractions such as taking phone calls and accomplishing another task while taking instructions. It is also advisable to maintain eye contact and take down notes to show seriousness in doing the job. Furthermore, it is also necessary to ask questions and clarify what has been said to avoid errors. It is likewise discouraged to criticize or argue with a superior as the goal is to listen well and display competence (Guffey, 2008).
Another skill that one needs to learn in the workplace is listening to colleagues and team mates as majority of one’s time is spent with these people. Guffey (2008) distinguishes two important kinds of listening to transpire in communicating with co-workers – critical listening and discriminative listening. The former pertains to one’s ability to gauge whether what he or she is hearing is fact or fiction or whether it is based on logic or emotion. Hence, objectivity is crucial in this sense. Meanwhile, the latter pertains to one’s comprehension of important facts or arguments and recognition of a message’s purpose.
Finally, the other important listening skill that should be developed by an employee involves listening to clients or customers. Today, even if businesses and companies claim that they are customer-centric, many still fail to make their customers feel that their opinions matter. Thus, companies who care start to employ ways and means to show their concern through training of employee who will actively listen to and gently probe questions to customers for better service. As a result, employees who utilize these techniques receive positive customer feedback than their untrained counterparts (Guffey, 2008). Overall, listening skills should therefore be developed for one employee to communicate effectively to his or her superiors, colleagues and team members, and customers, which will lead to improved performance and better working environment in the long run.
- Importance of Effective Listening
The importance of effective listening is ultimately unquestionable. In a personal level, listening is a valuable skill that encompasses the value of speaking especially in the business field. This skill is used to interpret what was said, evaluate the message, and respond accordingly. Hence, listening has been perceived to be the most significant interpersonal skill that enables individuals to be successful in their fields. Furthermore, studies have also revealed that efficient managerial listening has led to stronger notions of support, trust, motivation, increased production, and lower absenteeism rates. Moreover, on the part of supervisors, effective listening is deemed important because it serves to gather accurate information and foster a supportive atmosphere for the subordinate. In addition to this mechanistic importance, effective listening also creates a positive emphatic environment as supervisors can read beyond what employees convey and managers likewise gain access to their employees’ thoughts and feelings. This positive communication further results to employees’ increased organizational commitment and productivity (as cited in Flyn, Valikoski, & Grau).
In addition, studies have also shown that employers give value to listening skills and consider this skill as a crucial factor in the hiring process. It has also been noted by research studies that workers give more value to listening skills as they move up the ladder of professional success towards upper management level. In fact, top executives were found to spend twice as much of their time listening than their employees. These findings only conclude that organizations can maximize the full potential and advance the career of their employees by way of trainings designed to improve their listening skills (as cited in Flyn, Valikoski, & Grau).
In addition, listening is likewise important in the organizational level as it has been related to job satisfaction, lower turnover, increased employee productivity, and lower absenteeism. An active organizational culture that encourages listening also enables employees to feel included in the organization and also makes the organization respond to the needs and motivate employees for greater productivity and increased involvement. Similarly, a listening organization supports creative and innovative ideas, which leads to increased productivity, more efficient and effective ways to meet customers’ needs, and the organization’s competitive advantage (as cited in Flyn, Valikoski, & Grau).
- Different Listening Habits
People have utilized listening skills that work for them. While some may maintain good listening habits, others preserve the bad. These bad listening habits, particularly of Americans, were clearly stated by Dr. Ralph Nichols. Included in his list is calling the subject matter uninteresting or dull. Upon learning about the topic, one immediately concludes that it will be dull; hence, he or she uses up his or her cognitive processes on some other thoughts. Another bad habit is criticizing or judging the speaker based on delivery or appearance. Listeners tend to lose interest if the speaker has flaws in speaking or is dressed differently (as cited in University of Missouri Extension, 2010). Disagreeing with the speaker and dwelling on it is also a bad habit. Because of personal arguments that ran in one’s head to counter, rebut, or question the speaker, one fails to listen to other remarks made by the speaker. As a result, listening efficiency becomes zero due to over-simulation. In addition, choosing to listen only to facts is another bad habit as one concentrates or recalls only isolated facts and missing the main point of the speaker. Another ill habit is trying to outline everything that the speaker said, which is impossible as the speaker may have many and unorganized points. Moreover, pretending to be listening is another bad habit as one’s eyes may be focused on the speaker but his or her mind is someplace else. In addition, tolerating or creating distractions, listening only to easy topics and facts and avoiding the difficult ones, and being affected or submitting to emotional words are other bad habits. The last habit though that Nichol thought to be most important is wasting the differential between thought speed and speaking speed (as cited in University of Missouri Extension, 2010).
On the other hand, to improve on these bad listening skills, Nichol enumerated three ways to employ. One is anticipating the speaker’s next point. With this, if one anticipates accurately, he or she has learned something; otherwise, he or she wonders why and this further enhances his or her attention to listen to the speaker. Second is identifying the supporting elements that the speaker uses to build arguments. To do this, the listener explains the point, somehow gets emotional and criticizes it, and illustrates it factually, instead of dwelling on the differential between thought speed and speaking speed. Last is making mental summaries or notes. To do this, a listener uses the speaker’s short pauses to summarize in his or her head what the speaker said (as cited in University of Missouri, 2010).
- Advantages of Listening
Ultimately, effective listening has its advantages both to the listener and to the speaker. Brown (2009) noted that humans are gifted with only one mouth and two ears for a reason. According to her, included in these reasons are a better understanding of what is expected of an individual, building rapport and relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, resolving problems, and comprehending underlying meanings and messages. Moreover, active listening builds lasting trust and confidence and improves business and personal relationships. This benefit is evident in the field of law, which is hugely a relationship business. A lawyer with good listening ears has noticeably more clients and referrals and thus has established a client-lawyer relationship built on trust and confidence. Additionally, good listening skills allow the lawyer to get better and more pertinent information from the client. Hence, the necessary problem-solving that would lead to satisfactory outcomes for the two parties may be realized (Hamilton, 2006). Furthermore, in business, active listening makes one consider an alternative or soften his or her position or opinion, allows one to detect the flaws in his or her own reasoning once it is repeated to him or her without judgment nor criticism, determines areas of agreement thereby putting into proper perspective the areas of disagreement, and giving light to issues from all levels (ASME, 2010). Additionally, emphatic listening builds not only trust but respect as well, reduces tension, allows one to release his or her emotions, facilitates the developing of information and ideas, and produces a positive environment of collaborative problem solving (Salem, 2003).
Listening is therefore a skill that is crucial in today’s competitive environment. As societies become actively diverse, it is thus important to know how to listen to native speakers and non-native speakers alike, taking into account various verbal and nonverbal cues as well as cultural differences. When these are guaranteed, a positive atmosphere that encourages cultural awareness and intercultural communication is created. Nonetheless, before these happen, training in listening should be given attention to as the opportunities for learning the skill is not abundant. Therefore, personal effort to improve one’s listening abilities is significant. Improving one’s skills through powerful and good listening habits is a good start. This could further lead to good listening skills in the workplace through listening to superiors, co-workers, and customers. In the end, the listener will learn the importance of effective listening and then finds himself or herself rewarded with the benefits of effective listening.
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