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There is a world of difference between hearing and listening. A hearing specialist may, through therapy and devices, enable sounds to become more audible to the human ear. But these kinds of actions have no influence on a person’s listening ability. Hearing is a physical process. Listening is a cognitive and emotional engagement.
Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sounds with the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. You can hear someone speak without listening to the words. Hearing defines only the physical measurement of the sound waves that are transmitted to the ear and into the brain where they are processed into audible information. Hearing occurs with or without your consent. Indeed, hearing is such a passive quality that it occurs even while you sleep. When you merely hear someone’s words but are not listening to what is being said, it can lead to misunderstandings, missed opportunities and resentment.
What is Listening?
Listening goes far beyond your natural hearing process. It means paying attention to the words that are being spoken with the intention of understanding the other person. Your personal perceptions and prejudices can affect the quality of your listening skills. For example, if you feel you are better off (financially, intellectually, socially) than the person you are listening to, you may dismiss much of what s/he is saying because of your perceived superiority. Everyone wants to be heard and understood, but at one time or another, most people don’t listen and fail to understand the meaning of another person’s words. It’s a fundamental human need to have your feelings acknowledged, whether or not someone agrees with you. ‘Honest to goodness’ listening creates an intimate connection and makes you feel cared about.
In any speech event, it has been observed that there are generally four basic levels of hearing and listening, according to Toast Masters.org. Check the category you often fall into when involved in different
conversations. A non-listener is totally preoccupied with his personal thoughts and though s/he hears words, s/he is not listening to what is being said. Passive listeners hear the words but do not fully absorb or understand them. Listeners pay attention to the speaker but grasp only some part of the intended message. Active listeners are completely focused on the speaker and understand the meaning of the words without distortion. Listening is the most frequently used communication skill, but many of us are poor listeners. We lose interest, we concentrate on the speaker’s appearance instead of his/her words and our thoughts tend to drift simply because we can think faster than people speak. However, discipline and active engagement in the conversation can significantly improve your listening skills. Sharpen your listening skill by doing the following:
Pay attention to your speaker. Make eye contact with him/her and let him/her know you are listening by nodding or agreeing. However, even if you are making eye contact and nodding, it is still quite easy for your mind to wander. Concentrate on the speaker’s words and anticipate his/her next statement. Ask yourself why s/he would say that or why s/he did not say what you were expecting. Watch his/her body language for a better clue of his/her true feelings.
Close any books and remove any work from your desk when listening to a lecture. Do not use your computer to take notes during a lecture or meeting, as it is too easy to distract yourself with email or other work. Ask others around you to cease conversation, or ask your speaker to move to a quieter environment if possible.
When listening at a lecture or group meeting, summarise what the speaker has just said. This will not only strengthen your understanding of the subject, but will also improve your memory of the lecture and keep you from getting distracted by outside stimuli.
If you have questions or comments that need to be addressed, simply make a note of them and bring them up when appropriate. Taking notes will also improve your listening skills as it physically forces you to listen.
Respond When Appropriate
Save your questions or comments for when the speaker is done talking. The speaker may inadvertently address any concerns you may have had or answer your question later in the lecture. Interrupting is not only rude, but also proves that you are not willing to listen fully. Avoid forming any opinion of the speaker until you have listened to his/her entire statement. Jumping to conclusions will only distract you from the speaker’s message. Responding once the speaker has finished talking allows you to ask better questions or make stronger comments without wasting the speaker’s time.
It is important that you do respond. This lets the speaker know that you listened to what s/he had to say and you either understand or want to know more. Asking questions shows the speaker that you are interested in what s/he has to say and are all ears.
Relationship Listening Skills
In order to be a good friend, spouse or employee, you must have effective listening skills. One of the most important communication skills you can learn is active listening. Therapists and counsellors spend large quantities of time learning and improving this skill in order to develop positive relationships with their clients because of its importance. Listening skills can improve your relationships and increase your success at work.
If you want to be an active listener, you must pay attention to what the other person is saying. Check in with yourself periodically; if you find that you are nodding off or distracted, refocus your attention. If you are already planning what you are going to say in response, you are not listening or paying attention. Let the person finish speaking before you make judgments or respond. Listen to the other person as you would want to be listened to. If you are talking to your friend about something upsetting, you expect for him/her to care and listen to your concerns. You might want her/him to offer some advice or just hear what you have to say. When other people interrupt you, you probably feel as if they
aren’t listening or paying attention. Watch how others respond to you and mimic the behaviours that you like.
People can show that they are listening or that they bear distracted through nonverbal communication, according to Helpguide.org. If you are talking to your spouse about an argument that she had with her friend, you want to show her that you care. She can tell you are not listening if you do not make eye contact, fidget or look at your watch. If you want to improve your nonverbal communication, occasionally nod, sit up straight and smile to encourage the speaker.
People want to be heard, and part of listening in a relationship is giving the other person feedback. This doesn’t mean you have to provide advice or give your opinion. Repeat what the person has said in your own words. For instance, if your friend tells you he/she is not getting along with a co-worker, has to work long hours every day and feels drained when he gets home, you could respond by saying, “It sounds as though you’re stressed and overwhelmed.” With that one short statement, your friend will understand that you listened and care. If s/he asks for advice, give it, but just let him/her vent before telling him/her how to fix his situation. Many times, that is all it takes to make the other person feel better.
Source:National Open University of Nigeria
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