“Those who can listen to others well can listen to themselves deeply. This is the foundation of self-awareness, self-love, and self-knowledge.”
According to Carl Rogers, one of the 20th century’s most eminent psychologists, Active listening, is essential to create the conditions for growth.
Unfortunately, most of us have a natural desire to talk more and listen less.
We hear, do not listen. Hearing and listening are not the same.
Hearing is simply recognising sound on an anatomical level, it’s a passive outcome. Listening is an active process. This process is focused and needs concentration. One has to give conscious effort and thoughtful attention to the sounds, thereby, processing and understanding the core of what’s being said.
In our childhood, we were all taught to speak. It's a sign that a child is developing normally. However, active, disciplined listening is an equally important skill that is often overlooked by parents and teachers.
While writing for Esquire magazine in 1935, Ernest Hemingway advised young writers: ‘When people talk, listen completely….’
Sadly, not everyone is a good listener. Normally, we want to talk about ourselves. Even, if we’re quiet and others are talking doesn’t mean we’re good listeners. At that moment we might be thinking about what to do after the discussion is over, looking at the mobile phone or waiting to blurt out what we want to say. We find it difficult to let people finish their sentences. Sometimes we are tempted to ask questions and give our opinions. We also have preconceived ideas about what the person might say. These kinds of interactions disconnect rather than engage.
Kate Murphy, in her book “You’re Not Listening”, says that modern life is particularly opposed to good listening: “We are encouraged to listen to our hearts, listen to our inner voices, and listen to our guts, but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and with intent to other people.”
Undeniably, it’s important to listen to our inner voices but listening to people is crucial to stay connected in meaningful relationships.
Listening is like meditation and takes time to master. To sincerely listen, we need to muster compassion, attention and commitment.
Dr Ralph G. Nichols, known as ‘The Father of Listening,’ formed International Listening Association (ILA) in 1979. The ILA promotes the study, development, and teaching of listening.
Sheila Bentley, a member of ILA, proposed the idea to dedicate a special day to promoting listening in the world. To materialize this idea ILA initiated the International Day of Listening in 2016. Every year, ILA sponsors this one-day event on the third Thursday in September to promote the art of listening.
Listening is the key to effective communication in personal and professional life. The inability to properly listen can lead to misunderstandings, failing the outcome of the intended message(s).
Unfortunately, whenever the concept of listening is addressed, mostly, it’s in the context of professional communication; Listening is a valuable skill in all spheres of life. Be it home front, social context or a workplace. It helps reduce misunderstandings and conflicts; builds trust and stronger relationships on all levels. It aids one to understand, learn, and connect with others
To be an effective listener you need to stay focused, attentive, responsive, patient and empathetic.
There are many different types of listening in our daily interactions. Some of those are discussed below:
Active Listening: needs the listener to pay particular attention to the words, gestures and tone of the speaker; ask meaningful questions by paraphrasing and clarifying information; pay full attention and avoid distractions. Active listening helps build trust and rapport and the speaker can express thoughts and opinions comfortably without hesitation.
Comprehensive Listening: comprises the three types of listening most common in interpersonal communication:
1. Critical Listening: helps in problem-solving situations and making important decisions. The listener needs to identify all points of view using systematic reasoning and careful thought to analyse and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the speaker’s message and form their own opinion. For example, during an election, we listen to the candidates and form our opinions.
2. Empathetic listening or Therapeutic listening: helps to discuss someone’s problems who find it difficult to communicate those problems and understand their emotional state without interruption. In such listening always avoid giving advice and being judgmental. Supportive nonverbal cues such as nodding and maintaining eye contact are important and adding sentences like, "I can understand how you must be feeling," helps the speaker find confidence in sharing.
3. Informational listening: a passive form of listening. The listener should not judge, criticise or evaluate the message, just listen. For example: when a manager gives instructions to the team members about their responsibilities.
Appreciative Listening: it’s for the sake of enjoyment or relaxation like listening to music, poetry, audiobooks or some extraordinary speeches of some famous persons. It helps to see things from another person’s perspective.
Each type of listening has its benefits in different situations. When used together these can create a more understanding and productive personal and professional environment. These can resolve conflicts, help communicate better and manage work effectively.
Listening well takes practice. The more you practise, the easier it gets. Some of the techniques to be a better listener are to:
• Express your interest by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and leaning a little towards the person. It helps the speaker to understand that s/he has your undivided attention and you care.
• Be attentive. Let the person complete what s/he needs to say, without any interruption. In between, filler words like ‘Okay,’ ‘That’s interesting,’ and ‘Then what happened?’ can make them feel that you are paying attention.
• Ask clarifying questions but be respectful, If the speaker’s message is unclear to you. Politeness is the key. When you show respect to other people's ideas, they're more likely to reciprocate and continue to share their ideas which help in self-growth.
• Talk less, listen more. Follow Dr Bernard Ferrari’s 80/20 rule, which is to let the speaker speak 80 percent of the time, while you speak only 20 percent of the time. This 20 percent time should be for asking questions rather than trying to give your statement.
• Listen without forming responses in your mind. You may miss valuable information by letting your mind wander.
• Be open-minded as much as possible. It’s extremely important to withhold any negative evaluations or judgments.
• Watch the non-verbal cues. After all, face-to-face communication consists of body gestures and posture -55percent, voice-38percent and words- only 7 percent! To understand fully it is essential to understand body language too.
• Always avoid Defensive listening. Defensive listening is when someone takes an innocent comment as a personal attack. It can cause strain in both personal and professional relationships.
In Dale Carnegie's book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, he says that being a good listener encourages others to talk about themselves. Moreover, ‘Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
Listening helps build stronger, healthier relationships. It enriches our intelligence, emotional range, and knowledge.
Listening well is not only kindness to others, but helps in self-development.
Never stop listening.
Listen to the people around you; listen to the beautiful world around you; listen to your heart and be heard.
Are you listening?
[Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed and fiction writer, translator and training consultant. She is the Director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.]
1. MM Owen, The art of listening, aeon, 30 May 2022.
2. 5 types of listening you need to know, Customers first academy.