Listening: types of listening, barriers to listening, effective listening skills.
What is “Listening”?
Listening is a process of receiving, interpreting and reacting to the messages received from the communication sender. Effective listening is an art of communication that is often taken for granted and ignored. Like any other forms of art, listening needs to be cultivated consciously and carefully. Unfortunately, our education systems beginning from kindergarten up to college level rarely pays attention to the teaching of effective listening. Poor listening can be a mighty barrier to communication because it hampers effective listening which is fundamental for all types of communication. Listening requires conscious efforts to interpret the sounds, grasp the meanings of the words, and react to the message. Interpreting the sound signals is a cognitive act, involving conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering) that is dependent on the listener’s knowledge of code signals and their attitude towards the communication sender.
The 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 sounds from their surroundings. However, 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 or choose to focus on specific sounds.
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 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 without listening to others. It is certainly advisable to think about how we can get ourselves to patiently and carefully listen to others because half-listening is likely to result in confusions and misunderstandings as well as a loss of time. This is called active listening. The listener, who asks questions and comments on the views of the speaker, should therefore encourage the speaker to express his ideas fully and enthusiastically.
Not only is it essential to concentrate on what a person is saying, it is also just as important to pay attention to the speaker because physical and non-verbal signs make up a huge part of communication. Though non-verbal signs give us reliable information, the listener should not get 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 to pay attention to the speaker’s message, which is to our advantage; but we should take equal interest in the speeches, which is 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 himself 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 that is being conveyed by the speaker. A careful listener never jumps to conclusions about what the speaker says until the latter completes his message.
Non-active listeners are poor listeners who only recalls specific facts presented by the speaker and tend to forget the central idea. Tired, bored and lazy listeners may pretend to be attentive through their body languages as they usually rest their chin on hand or bend forward in the chair to show that they really pay attention to the talk, but in fact they may be occupied with some other thoughts. They may drift away thinking about their personal problems and worries.
Some listeners may also pretend to listen while distracting themselves by doing other things such as making notes, reading mail and doing other 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 is difficult to understand or if it is too hard to follow. The listener requires mental preparedness and energy to concentrate on the message and on non-verbal communication like body movement, postures, gestures, etc.
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 create a congenial atmosphere for listening, which allows freedom of expression from the speaker. Poor listening can create embarrassing situations, which result in lack of co-ordination and mutual understanding. For instance, manager who is willing to listen to their employees, can give them an opportunity to vent out their emotions. Effective listening helps managers get constructive suggestions from workers. There is greater harmony and cohesion if the sender and the receiver listen to each other messages effectively. Reciprocity can raise their morale and create togetherness.
Some Do’s for the Listeners
Barriers to Listening
Listening is an art of communication. In order to master it, the communicator has to learn and acquire the skills of effective listening. He must identify and overcome the following obstacles: