Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. There are many sources that can disrupt or distort our ability to communicate effectively including your ability to form you message (think!), encode you message (language), transmit through noise and distractions, and then rely on the other party to receive your message, decode it (accurately) and then repeat the process in reverse to give you feedback. It’s a wonder any useful information gets there and back at all.
Listening is key to all effective communication: without the ability to listen effectively messages from the sender are easily misunderstood and our own responses go off target, communication breaks down and both the sender of the message and the receiver can easily become frustrated or irritated. And if neither party is listening it doesn’t matter how effective the messaging was.
Listening is the most fundamental component of interpersonal communication skills, yet often the most neglected partner. Listening is not something that just happens (that is hearing); listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the messages of the speaker, and at the same time respecting and valuing the other party. Attentive listening is also about patience; it involves giving the other person the opportunity to explore their thoughts and feelings, even if struggling to do so; they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that.
Attentive Listening is itself more than mere mechanics. It is made up of two parts: Active Listening and Empathetic Listening. Active Listening is the deliberate action of listening with full concentration and making sense of the transmission from the other. It is largely a cognitive function. Empathetic Listening on the other hand has more to do with appreciating the state of mind of the person transmitting, understanding his or her personal circumstances and needs while he or she is transmitting.
Tact and diplomacy is not just reserved for transmitting; how we listen communicates messages itself and so we also need to ‘listen’ with tact and diplomacy. Every communication between two human beings is a reflection of the relationship between them and consequently carries risk: our self-esteem is in play whenever we interact with another and so effective listening has to take account of the consequences to the ongoing relationship. People with high emotional intelligence have an instinct, or have learned, to listen effectively.
Good listening skills have benefits in our personal lives, including: greater number of friends and social networks, improved self-esteem and confidence, higher grades at school and in academic work and even, better health and general well-being. Studies have shown that, whereas speaking raises blood pressure, listening brings it down. [Talking and Blood Pressure By Stephen Sinatra, Published: 28 May 2013, http://www.heartmdinstitute.com/health-topics/blood-pressure/402-talking-and-blood-pressure] Attentive listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships: spend some time thinking about and developing your listening skills because they are the building blocks of successful relationships, and success itself.
If you are interested in exploring these ideas further AFS Consulting has a program for you delivered in one-on-one coaching modality: Mastering the Art of Tact and Diplomacy. Check it out here: