Importance of Listening
One primary reason why listening is so important is the amount of time people spend doing just that – listening. Listening is the most frequent, perhaps the most important type of on-the-job communication. Top executives spend even more time listening than other employees.
Listening on the job is not only frequent, it is very important as well. In fact, most managers agree that “active listening” is the most crucial skill for becoming a successful manager. Listening can improve work quality and boost productivity. Poor listening leads to innumerable mistakes because of which letters have to be retyped, meetings rescheduled. All this affects productivity and profits. Apart from the obvious benefits, good listening helps employees to update and revise their collection of facts, skills and attitudes. Good listening also helps them to improve their speaking.
Despite all these benefits, as pointed out earlier, good listening skills are quite rare in the business world today. A number of studies have revealed why people listen poorly, despite the advantages of doing just the opposite. Let us look at some of the common barriers to effective listening.
Barriers to effective listening
When we hear, we only perceive sounds, but when we listen, this hearing is accompanied by a deliberate and purposeful act of the mind. To listen means to get meaning from what is heard. One may hear the words another person utters, without really understanding them. Let us look at some of the factors that impede effective hearing
Sometimes poor listening can be traced to hearing deficiencies. However, once these deficiencies are detected, they can usually be treated.
According to an estimate, we speak at an average of 125 to 150 words a minute. Our mind, however, can process nearly 500 words per minute. This gives listeners a good deal of spare time, which is often used for mental excursions ranging from daydreaming to thinking about the speaker’s hairstyle. Spending this time for analyzing the message would make for better listening.
Distracting sounds, poor acoustics, uncomfortable seating arrangements can all hamper effective listening. But then it is not impossible to counter these distractions through concentration.
When all your attention is focused on what is being said, the other noises take backseat in your consciousness. Unless of course, the noises are too powerful.
When you are forced to listen to a quick succession of messages, then after a point your receptivity dulls. You find it gets impossible to listen attentively. Coping with a deluge of information is like juggling – you can keep only a few things going at a time.
Sometimes our prejudices and deep-seated beliefs make it impossible for us to be receptive to the speaker. For instance, when two politicians who belong to, say the BJP and the CPI(M), argue over a political issue, they are not likely to give each other’s views a fair hearing, because of their preconceived attitudes. To break down this barrier, we must achieve some control over our instinctive responses and learn to postpone judgement until we have listened to exactly what is being said.
Sometimes we are preoccupied with other concerns. As students, all of you must have had days when you registered nothing of what was said in class, because your thoughts were on the freshers’ party you had to arrange the next evening.
A casual attitude
Because hearing is relatively easy, we assume that we can do it without much concentration and effort. This attitude is often a major barrier to listening.
Many people are poor listeners, because they are overly concerned with themselves. Three personal concerns dominate their listening behavior. These can be summed up in three sentences:
1. I must defend my position.
2. I already know what you have to say.
3. How am I coming through?
These concerns set up effective barriers that destroy the critical link between speaker and listener.
Poor Listening Habits
Listening, like much of human behavior, tends to follow consistent patterns. Most of us develop certain bad listening habits that eventually create a pattern. Four of the most common bad habits are:
1. Faking attention: Many of us fake attention so as not to appear discourteous.
2. Listening only for facts: In looking only for the facts, we often forget to locate the main idea.
3. Avoiding difficult and uninteresting material: Sometimes we switch off our attention when what is being said is difficult, unfamiliar, or simply uninteresting. If we do this often, this turning off becomes a consistent pattern.
4. Focusing on delivery: Sometimes we are so concerned with how someone says something that we pay scant attention to what he or she is actually saying.
How to be a good listener
Regardless of whether the situation calls for appreciative, critical, discriminative or active listening, listening skills can be improved with conscious effort. Let us now look at some of the specific steps you can take to become a better listener.
1. Find areas of interest
2. Judge content, not delivery
3. Hold your fire
4. Listen for ideas
5. Be flexible
6. Work at listening
7. Resist distractions
8. Exercise your mind
9. Keep your mind open