Listening is something we have to learn to do because it is a learned skill. There is a significant difference between hearing and listening.
Hearing is a biological function, and like breathing or blinking it happens whether you are consciously telling yourself to do it or not. Listening, on the other hand, is a mental process. It requires thought, effort, and practice.
Listening is the process of receiving, attending to, and assigning meaning to oral and visual stimuli.”
We’ve all had that moment where, after turning through several pages of a novel, we suddenly realize we haven’t the faintest idea of what we just supposedly read. We saw the words on the pages, but we didn’t actually take the time to process them mentally. In other words, there is a difference between seeing and reading. Seeing happens as long as your eyes are open and you have a gift of vision. It is a passive biological process. But reading requires you to exert some brainpower. It is an active process of making meaning.
Listening in Perspective.
Listening is the most frequently used and invaluable skill we could possibly have for our personal and professional lives. You might be surprised how much we are required to listen in the course of an average day. Yet, unlike many of the other essential skills in our lives that we have learned through some combination of schooling and experience, very little time has been devoted to training us as listeners.
- Most of us probably received a minimum of 12 years of instruction on how to write well, yet it is a skill that is only used in approximately 9% of the average person’s daily communication.
- Reading often receives between six and eight years of formal instruction, yet it only accounts for 16% of our communication.
- Speaking receives a paltry one year of attention, perhaps two years if we’re lucky, and it is only 30% of our communication.
- Listening, however, often receives less than a half-year of formal training, yet it makes up 45% of our daily communication.
These statistics above highlight a grave oversight in our education that, with a little effort, can be improved and yield tremendous and immediate results for us. There are three levels of listening we have to choose from during any given interaction. Defining each level is the first step in understanding how to improve our habits.
Level 1: Hearing Words
This is everybody’s default level – the misconception that we are listening! This level puts us in the uncomfortable position of misunderstanding a message where you jump to conclusions, or unable to recall the message within moments of it being said.
Sometimes we are vaguely aware that we are to blame, yet other times we try to pass the blame on to the speaker, claiming that he or she was not interesting or engaging. The most alarming thing about this level of listening is that we are emotionally and mentally detached from the speaker.
Level 2: Listening in Spurts
In this category, we are listening but just!!! You are aware to some degree that you are listening poorly and you know that concentration on the message is important, so you may be able to tune in temporarily, but only hear in “spurts” because you lack the required training. In this type of listening, you are always looking for the next opportunity to jump in and speak rather than actually attending to the message of the other person.
Level 3: Empathetic Listening
This is the real deal. This is proper listening where you set aside internal and external distractions so as to listen without judgment or interruption where you are emotionally and mentally invested and provide verbal and nonverbal feedback to the speaker. Empathetic communication is like a partnership, and both individuals must play their role.