Susan Cain said in her book ‘The Power of Introverts’, “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” Listening is more important of a skill than speaking in an effective communication. Active listening provides people with opportunity to understand the speaker to be able to respond and form opinions about what’s being conveyed. I was part of the ESL program for the first two years of High School. After I got out of the ESL program, I started tutoring and encouraging other students in the program. Counseling them required me to become skilled at listening to be able to advise them better. Becoming an active listener requires knowing the definition of active listening, importance of active listening, benefits of active listening and barriers to active listening.
Active listening is a communication skill that facilitates understanding, comprehension, and compassion between people. As a famous English writer and poet G.K. Chesterson said, ” There is a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” The process of hearing is merely sound waves transmitted to the ear into the brain, while listening is an active process that requires paying attention to the words being spoken with the intention of understanding them. Four Subsets of skills are involved in active listening: value of silence, listening to what has been said, reframing what has been said, and usage of accurate body language. Silence shows the listener is interested, and allows the speaker to hear him/herself talk. Reframing what’s being conveyed is processing what’s being said to be able to form opinions, questions and concerns about it. Usage of affirmative body language by the listener can help the speaker recognize the attention being paid and attitude of the listener toward what’s being said. Listening is an active process that requires good attention span and has many benefits.
Most importantly, it is the benefits and importance of active listening that make listening the most essential part of effective communication. Being skilled at active listening offers great benefit of active learning. Students who have active listening skills are able to effectively process information and use their knowledge to better understand concepts and develop new ideas. Active listening can help develop clear two-way communication and improve attention span. Listening is an essential skill in almost all careers that require human-to-human communications. In the service industries, active listening allows service providers to better understand what customer expectations are and meet those expectations. In the field of medicine, active listening allows doctors and nurses to better understand their patients to be able to provide better care. In families, active listening builds intimacy and trust between husband and wife and parent and child. Seth S. Horowitz said in New York Times article in November 2012, “Hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.” Communicating through listening is the fastest way to communicate effectively than any other sense.
Although there are great benefits of active listening, certain barriers become problematic to effective listening. In our fast-paced world, active listening is a rarity, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. Barriers such as lack of knowledge, Pre-judgments, failure to avoid distractions, and fear keep people from mastering the art of active listening. Due to lack of knowledge and pre-judgment, listeners tend to reject ideas without understanding them if they sense the speaker’s ideas contradicting their own. Listeners are able to process more thoughts than speakers are able to speak in a certain time frame, which allows “access capacity” of the listener to think about irrelevant topics. Some people find it very hard to avoid these distractions. People might be afraid of what they are about to hear; People may be afraid to be forced to acknowledge problematic situations or admit to being wrong about certain topic. Although these barriers are problematic, it is easy to avoid these barriers by acquiring higher attention span and being open minded. A celebrated entrepreneur Richard Branson said in his book ‘Five Steps to Start and Make Business Work’, “No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out, and learn from them.”
Active listeners let people know they care about what is being said and help the speaker articulate the true meaning of their thoughts and the true source of their feelings. Active listening not only requires understanding and remembering what is being said but evaluating and interpreting what is being heard. Seth S. Horowitz of New York Times said in one of the New York Times articles, ” The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.”