Effective and meaningful communication is vital to human growth and function. However, the 21st century’s emphasis on speed has often produced quick results at the expense of quality and durability. These days we want our food faster and our coffee in an instant. Communication, like many other facets of human life, has been affected by our need for speed. The push for instant gratification has seen the rise of instant messaging. While getting the word out quickly does have its benefits, too often we focus solely on what we say rather than what we hear.
Why Listening Well Is So Important
A poll of 100 mental health professionals revealed communication problems is the most often cited contributing factor for divorce (65%). When considering divorce, 56% of women said their husband’s lack of listening was among their top communication complaints.
There are occasions when some conflicts become explosive and the situation may progress far more quickly than expected. In these circumstances, it may be important to slow down and listen. Listening well allows you to accurately gauge the situation from the other party’s perspective, discover the other party’s true concerns or needs, and respond in a manner that may quell the emotionally heated exchange. Poor listening skills, however, often contribute to poor communication.
Types of Listening Skills
In an effort to become a better communicator, learning and practicing different types of listening skills may be necessary. In many cases, we listen in order to learn facts, uncover emotions, or analyze a particular issue. Of course, the type of listening skill you choose to employ at a particular time will depend greatly on the setting, the audience, and your communication goals. After considering your circumstances closely, you may decide to use one of these types of listening:
Active listening – This skill encourages the listener to focus his or her full attention on the speaker. It involves repeating what the listener believes the speaker said, but in the listener’s own words. The listener may also express his or her understanding of the speaker’s psychological response to the situation. For example, an active listener may say “I understand you are upset that I borrowed your notes without asking.” The speaker may then confirm or clarify the listener’s understanding.
When listening, you may sometimes become distracted by your own thoughts. Perhaps you may be overly concerned about what you are going to say in response, or you may believe you already know what the speaker is about to say. However, active listening involves setting aside judgment during the listening process and using nonverbal communication—such as facial expressions, gestures, and other forms of body language—to show the speaker that complete attention is being paid to his or her message.
Reflective listening – This strategy is often confused with active listening as it too involves giving the speaker undivided attention, using nonverbal cues, and asking questions in order to confirm ideas or provide further clarification. However, while active listening encourages the listener to express what he or she thinks the speaker says or feels, reflective listening encourages the listener to reflect or mirror the speaker’s psychology and emotions so the speaker feels as if he or she is being listened to.
The goal of reflective listening is to provide support while trying to understand the speaker’s perspective. This approach can be crucial to maintaining romantic, business, and social ties as it demonstrates sensitivity to the speaker’s emotions.
Key points to remember during reflective listening include:
- Step back from your own emotions
- Look past the speaker’s behavior for underlying causes of the behavior
- Empathize with the speaker and mirror the speaker’s emotions
- Avoid using the word “why” when asking questions as this may be misinterpreted as the listener passing judgment or imposing his or her own beliefs on the speaker
Critical listening – This listening strategy is often used when the aim of the listener is to evaluate and analyze what is being said. Critical listening is often employed in situations that involve decision-making or problem-solving. Unlike active listening and reflective listening, which are both non-judgmental listening skills, critical listening involves the use of personal judgment.
Critical listening can be an excellent tool in academic or business contexts in which the primary goal of communication is to garner accurate information, compare it to what is already known, and apply it to situations in which it may be beneficial. A critical listener will ask questions about whether the information being transmitted is credible, logical, or being used for manipulation. As critical listening is usually results-oriented, it may be best used when neither the speaker nor the listener is overly concerned about his or her emotions during communication.
Ways to Apply Listening Skills
While it can be important for good communicators to learn good listening skills, it may be equally important to learn how to apply these skills effectively. To facilitate meaningful communication, it is recommended that the listener face the speaker and maintain eye contact. Not only can this approach minimize possible distractions, it can give the speaker the impression that his or her message is being taken seriously.
Listening well allows you to accurately gauge the situation from the other party’s perspective, discover the other party’s true concerns or needs, and respond in a manner that may quell the emotionally heated exchange. Poor listening skills, however, often contribute to poor communication.A good communicator should also be relaxed during conversation. Though an effective listener may be mindful of interrupting the speaker and only ask clarifying questions when the speaker pauses, he or she may send nonverbal cues to the speaker that can significantly affect the flow of communication.
Good communicators are also encouraged to keep an open mind, picture what the speaker is saying, and give appropriate feedback at appropriate times. This practice may put the speaker at ease—particularly if he or she is relating a difficult issue—and may prompt the speaker to provide more information than expected.
As social beings our quality of life is often dependent on meaningful communication with others, and the application of effective listening skills can be a big part of that effort. When properly used, these techniques can help enhance our marriages, families, careers, and more.
If your goal is to become a better communicator as you carry out your role as parent, partner, teacher, supervisor, or friend, try applying these strategies to your life. You may discover improvements in your personal relationships in the process. Being a good speaker is commendable, but if you want to be a good communicator, you may want to stop talking for a moment and listen up!
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