The art of listening has intrigued philosophers, educators, scientists and thought leaders since the beginning of communication and language.
Many of them have written books on the subject with titles such as the “5 tips to improve your listening”, “The one thing you need to do to become a better listener”, “17 steps to listening and remembering “, “How to Become a Better Listener: 10 Simple Tips“ and other more varied titles.
I love this quote by Winston Churchill
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen “
Why do we have this obsession with listening, and is improving listening as easy as following a system to increase the retention of what we have heard?
Is it as easy as…1,2,3,4,5?
You’ve probably heard the expression “hard of hearing.” I think when learning English, many students are rather “hard of listening.”
How would you describe the difference between hearing and listening?
Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Hearing simply happens unless you are hearing-impaired. It is passive and one of our five senses.
Hearing is a Sense. Listening is a Skill.
Listening, however, is a conscious decision, and requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences and translates them into understanding, which you can use as a stimulus for appropriate responses, either active or passive.
Listening turns hearing into learning.
There are many more people alive today that can “hear” in English as opposed to those that can “listen” in English.
A great example of this is our popular music culture, where you can walk into a bar in Bolivia, or a supermarket in Serbia, and hear people that cannot speak English fluently singing along to well-known songs in English.
When I think back to my primary school days, I remember Mrs. Kay, my 5th-grade teacher had a sign above the blackboard that read “Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters.”
Her class was a “silent” classroom, as she thought if we were silent we were listening to her. (haha!)
Most often I was only “hearing” her…and picked up snippets of the lesson as my concentration wavered in and out of what was interesting me at the time…what was in my lunch sandwiches, the girl in the front row, going fishing after school, shooting a rubber band at my friend’s ear…
Listening is a learned skill, and if coupled with something you are interested in and the removal of distractions, is extremely easy to do.
This is how I listen…
- I set aside a dedicated time (say an hour) that I will spend listening. Have you ever noticed how much you get done when you’re on an aeroplane because you’re off-line and there are no other distractions, from work colleagues telephone calls or other interactions? You need to set it up so that you can get into the zone, but this takes time and requires focus to avoid distractions. Your alone time doesn’t have to be in the early hours of the morning when nobody else is awake (my preference), but you can set up a rule that set parameters that allow you to carve out time that can be dedicated to listening. In this way, you find that your listening “efficiency” is easily doubled.
- I remove all distractions (cellphone, social media, friends, TV, etc) and only have the media I am using to listen to available during that time. This can be a great challenge if you have communication addiction, and the only way to make this period and unbroken and effective is to avoid activities that interrupt your listening completely. And you need to get rid of it – during that time it means letting go of instant messages phone calls emails meetings and anything else that creates noise. You will be amazed at your increase in listening productivity. Interruption is the enemy of listening.
- I always have a clear agenda, so that I start with a specific listening objective in mind and at the end of the time evaluate how successful I’ve been in achieving that objective. Set a timer to measure your dedicated hour or whatever period time you’ve decided to set aside for listening and when it rings listening is over. Period.
- I use playback to re-listen to important points. Have a notepad ready to make notes and highlight certain points.
- Repeat the important points allowed to reinforce them and so that you can hear them in your voice.
Next step to accomplish your goal…
Listening is like any task you set out to achieve – once you’re able to build momentum it will encourage you to move forward at a far quicker pace. No one likes to work on an open-ended project and be stuck in that mode indefinitely, because eventually it will kill your mojo and lead to burnout. To increase your motivation get into the habit of setting small goals that you can achieve in your allocated time, and accomplish them. Even a tiny improvement can you give you the encouragement you need to move onto the next step to accomplish your goal.
Here we are looking for quick wins. That will fuel your motivation. It’ll keep you going. It will drive you.
The way to achieve this motivation is to start, and then when you have done your exercise to move onto the next piece and keep repeating this process.
Step by step. And you will get better.
Listening is an art, not a science. It is a skill you can learn, and get good at. It is the shortcut to communication, relationships, and success.