Learning to Listen

Hearing and listening are not the same process.  Hearing is the physical act of sound striking the eardrum.  Listening is differentiating among those sounds. Hearing is an involuntary and reflective act.  Listening is a voluntary and initiative act.  As you read these words, you are hearing sounds in the room or outside the building.  You are probably hearing an air-conditioning system or a furnace, or voices in the hallway. Perhaps you are hearing street traffic or an airplane.  Hearing these sounds simply means that the sounds are striking your eardrum.  It’s not until you focus on these sounds that you are actually listening to them.  Now that we’ve mentioned them, do you hear the sounds around you?  Are you listening to them?  In a business environment, you will hear many sounds that could demand your attention.

Listening behavior is either active or passive.  Passive listeners do not give full attention to the speaker.  Passive listening is characterized by looking away from the speaker, thinking about other subjects while listening, or perhaps engaging in another activity, such as writing a letter, or reading an article, or even carrying on another conversation with a second speaker.  Passive listening means not concentrating on the speaker’s message with your full capacity. It is widely accepted that passive listening is not as beneficial or productive as active listening.  However, as many parents know, many children can study or do homework while “listening” to music or the radio.  These children may say, “but I think better when the radio is on,” or “I can’t concentrate without Spotify.”  A whole generation of today’s millennials have listened passively to background music or talking while “concentrating” on something else.  This may work for children or some older students –  but passive listening is not appropriate in a business setting.

Active Listening (AL), on the other hand, is more productive in business and relationships. AL is exhibited in many ways that include eye contact with the other person who is speaking, asking questions for clarification and responsive commentary . AL has two major components . The first is being able to pay attention to the speaker. That is, to block other sounds in the space so that you can both hear and evaluate what is being said. The second component is focus That is, being able to actively and purposefully select words and ideas and differentiate them from other words and ideas that the speaker is presenting. These two components are key to both clear and deep understanding as well as building a positive relationship.

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