Listen Up! Enhancing Our Listening Skills
Have you ever thought about how important listening can be? Just
consider that we spend 80 percent of our waking hours communicating,
and over 45 percent of that time listening to others - spouses,
children, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.
What is listening? Many of us think that listening is what we
do while waiting for our turn to talk. Listening is more than
being quiet and hearing. Dr. Lyman K. Steil, a well-known authority
on the subject of listening, explains that listening involves
four stages. First, we hear the message, then interpret, evaluate,
and respond to it.
In the workplace, the cost of poor listening adds up to dollars
and cents. It can involve the cost of additional time spent in
repeating instructions and having to redo assignments that were
carried out incorrectly. Further, some workplace accidents involving
physical harm to workers are the result of an individual not listening
to directions or warnings prior to acting.
On a personal front, our relationships with people can suffer
if we do not listen effectively or if we do not have people in
our lives that will actively listen to us from time-to-time. We
all need someone with whom to share our ideas, thoughts and feelings.
If we do not have a listener in our lives, we can begin to feel
lonely and isolated.
Why Don't We Listen?
If listening is really this important, then why aren't we better
listeners? There's actually a physiological reason for our listening
difficulties. Our capacity to listen ranges from 400 to 600 words
a minute, while the average speaking rate is about 125 words per
minute. This can give is plenty of time to think about other things
while a person is talking to us.
We should be aware that empathic listening is the kind of first
aid that many people seek. Leo Buscaglia, a well-known psychologist
and author, put it this way: "When I ask you to listen to me,
and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked."
Remember that there are times when people want us to listen to
them and nothing more.
Before you can become a good listener, you must become a flexible
listener. In other words, it's crucial to vary your listening
style to suit the speaker, the subject, and the occasion.
Consider your reason for listening. More often than not, your
reason for listening will help decide on your style of listening.
Are you listening for pleasure, to receive ideas and information,
to evaluate information or to show empathy? These are the four
basic reasons for listening.
Taking a look at your listening habits is the first step towards
becoming a better listener. Most of us have a number of listening
faults. So don't be surprised if you identify yourself in more
than one of these illustrations.
Usually, the biased listener isn't listening. The biased listener
has tuned out and is planning what to say next, based on some
fixed idea already decided on regarding the topic at hand (no
matter what else is said by the speaker).
The Distracted Listener
All of us fit into this category at one time or another. Distracted
listeners allow internal or external distractions to prevent them
from giving others their undivided attention.
Unfortunately, a lot of distracted listeners don't realize that
it's important to get ready to listen. You can't turn yourself
into an attentive listener unless you make a deliberate effort
to tune out internal distractions and concentrate on what the
speaker is saying. If this is not possible, it may be better to
set another time to meet with and listen to that person so that
he or she can have your undivided attention.
The Impatient Listener
The impatient listener is one who interrupts and seldom lets
people finish what they have to say. It can be easy to slip into
The Passive Listener
The passive listener does not realize that listening is an active
process. When we are engaged in conversation with this type of
listener, we are never sure if our message is understood. Why?
Simply because we receive little or no feedback. Obviously, this
can cause plenty of communication problems.
If you have a tendency to be a passive listener, try turning
yourself into a responsive listener by providing people with more
feedback. Just lean slightly forward, establish eye contact, and
nod or smile when appropriate. An occasional remark such as "I
see," "uh-huh" or "yes" can be used when the conversation is either
face-to-face or by phone.
You may realize that your listening skills need some improvement.
Although you're not going to change a lifetime of these habits
overnight, you can, with a little time and effort, learn to become
a better listener.
Remember that listening is an important communication skill,
and should not overlooked.
You are probably so familiar with the phrase "think before you
speak," so much so, that this advice is probably second nature
to you. But this phrase is incomplete. For most of us, if we add
a reminder that listening is a skill that should be practiced,
the quality of our dealings with others could be greatly improved.
You may wish to carefully examine the above points. Although no one can be expected to have "perfect listening," this is one thing that we could wish to be better skilled at. An EAP counsellor can help you to learn and apply the practice of good listening, to family, business, and social situations.
If you have any questions about this topic, or if you wish to discuss a personal situation you may be experiencing, we invite you to contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). All contact between you and your EAP is completely confidential.
You may reach us at:
English Service: 1.800.387.4765
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HealthQuest is produced four times a year for employees
and their families.
© 2005 WarrenShepell