on Effective Listening
were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as
hard as talking."
Theory of Communication
Expressing our wants, feelings, thoughts and
opinions clearly and effectively is only half of the communication
process needed for interpersonal effectiveness. The other half is listening
and understanding what others communicate to us. When a person
decides to communicate with another person, he/she does so to fulfill a need.
The person wants something, feels discomfort, and/or has
feelings or thoughts about something. In deciding to communicate, the
person selects the method or code which he/she believes will
effectively deliver the
message to the other person. The code used to send the
message can be either verbal or nonverbal. When the other person
receives the coded message, they go through the process of decoding or
interpreting it into understanding and meaning. Effective
communication exists between two people when the receiver interprets
and understands the senderís message in the same way the sender
of Difficulty by the Speaker
||Voice volume too low to be heard.
||Making the message too complex, either by including too many
unnecessary details or too many issues.
||Getting lost, forgetting your point or the purpose of the
||Body language or nonverbal elements contradicting or interfering with
the verbal message, such as smiling when anger or hurt is being
||Paying too much attention to
how the other person is taking the message, or how the person might react.
||Using a very unique code or unconventional method for delivering the
of Difficulty by the Listener
||Being preoccupied and not listening.
||Being so interested in what you have to say that you listen mainly to
find an opening to get the floor.
||Formulating and listening to your own rebuttal to what the speaker is
||Listening to your own personal beliefs about what is being
||Evaluating and making judgments about the speaker or the message.
asking for clarification when you know that you do not understand.
Three Basic Listening Modes
Competitive or Combative Listening happens when we are
more interested in promoting our own point of view than in
understanding or exploring someone elseís view. We either listen
for openings to take the floor, or for flaws or weak points we can
attack. As we pretend to pay attention we are impatiently waiting for
an opening, or internally formulating our rebuttal and planning our
devastating comeback that will destroy their argument and make us the
- In Passive or Attentive Listening we are genuinely
interested in hearing and understanding the other personís point of
view. We are attentive and passively listen. We assume that we heard
and understand correctly. but stay passive and do not verify it.
or Reflective Listening is the single most useful and
important listening skill. In active listening we are also
genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is
thinking, feeling, wanting or what the message means, and we are
active in checking out our understanding before we respond with
our own new message. We restate or paraphrase our understanding of
their message and reflect it back to the sender for verification.
This verification or feedback process is what distinguishes active
listening and makes it effective.
Levels of Communication
Listening effectively is difficult because
people vary in their communication skills and in how clearly they
express themselves, and often have different needs, wants and purposes
for interacting. The different types of interaction or levels of
communication also adds to the difficulty. The four different types or
- Thoughts and beliefs.
- Feelings and emotions.
As a listener we attend to the level that we
think is most important. Failing to recognize the level most relevant
and important to the speaker can lead to a kind of crossed
wires where the two people are not on the same wavelength. The
purpose of the contact and the nature of our relationship with the
person will usually determine what level or levels are appropriate and
important for the particular interaction. Note the different
requirements in the following situations:
||Youíre lost, and you ask a stranger for directions.
||Your child comes to you crying.
||You are in trouble and someone offers to help.
||Your spouse is being affectionate and playful.
||Opposing council is cross-examining you in court.
If we donít address the appropriate
elements we will not be very effective, and can actually make the
situation worse. For example: If your wife is telling you about her
hurt feelings and you focus on the facts of the situation and donít
acknowledge her feelings, she will likely become even more upset.
There is a real distinction between merely hearing the words and really
listening for the message. When we listen effectively we
understand what the
person is thinking and/or feeling from the other personís own
perspective. It is as if we were standing in the other personís
shoes, seeing through his/her eyes and listening through the person's ears.
Our own viewpoint may be different and we may not necessarily agree with
the person, but as we listen, we understand from the other's perspective.
To listen effectively, we must be actively involved in the
communication process, and not just listening passively.
We all act and respond on the basis of our understanding, and too often there is a misunderstanding that neither
of us is aware of. With active listening, if a misunderstanding has
occurred, it will be known immediately, and the communication can be
clarified before any further misunderstanding occurs.
Several other possible benefits occur with
person just needs to be heard and acknowledged before the person
is willing to consider an alternative or soften his /her position.
||It is often easier for a person to listen to and consider the otherís
position when that person knows the other is listening and considering
people to spot the flaws in their reasoning when they hear it played
back without criticism.
||It also helps identify areas of agreement so the areas of disagreement
are put in perspective and are diminished rather than magnified.
||Reflecting back what we hear each other say helps give each a chance
to become aware of the different levels that are going on below the
surface. This helps to bring things into the open where they can be
more readily resolved.
||If we accurately understand the other personís view, we can be more
effective in helping the person see the flaws in his/her position.
||If we listen
so we can accurately understand the otherís view, we can also
be more effective in discovering the flaws in our own position.
||Usually it is important to paraphrase and use your own words in
verbalizing your understanding of the message. Parroting back the
words verbatim is annoying and does not ensure accurate understanding
of the message.
||Depending on the purpose of the
interaction and your understanding of
what is relevant, you could reflect back the other persons:
- Account of the
- Thoughts and beliefs.
- Feelings and emotions.
- Wants, needs or motivation.
- Hopes and expectations.
Donít respond to just the meaning of the
words, look for the
feelings or intent beyond the words. The dictionary or surface meaning of the words or code used by the
sender is not the message.
|| Inhibit your impulse to immediately answer
questions. The code may be in the form of a question. Sometimes people ask
questions when they really want to express themselves and are not open
to hearing an answer.
Know when to quit using active listening. Once you accurately
understand the senderís message, it may be appropriate to respond
with your own message. Donít use active listening to hide and avoid
revealing your own position.
||If you are confused and know you do not understand, either tell the
person you donít understand and ask him/her to say it another way, or
use your best guess. If you are incorrect, the person will realize it
and will likely attempt to correct your misunderstanding.
||Active listening is a very effective first response when the other
person is angry, hurt or expressing difficult feelings toward you,
especially in relationships that are important to you.
||Use eye contact and
listening body language. Avoid looking
at your watch or at other people or activities around the room. Face
and lean toward the speaker and nod your head, as it is appropriate.
Be careful about crossing your arms and appearing closed or critical.
||Be empathic and nonjudgmental. You can be accepting and respectful of
the person and their feelings and beliefs without invalidating or
giving up your own position, or without agreeing with the accuracy and
validity of their view.
Become a more effective listener. Practice
the active listening technique and make it one of your communication skills.