The ability to accurately receive and interpret messages when communicating is the key to all effective communication. Without this ability, messages will be easily misunderstood. As a result, communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated.
Listening is so important that many employers provide listening skills training for their employees. This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, and increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.
Good listening skills also have benefits in our personal lives, including a greater number of friends and social networks, improved self-esteem and confidence, greater achievement in work, and even better health and general well-being. Studies have shown that, whereas speaking raises blood pressure, attentive listening can bring it down.
Hearing refers to the sounds that enter your ears. It is a physical process that, provided you do not have any hearing problems, happens automatically. Listening, however, requires more than that: it requires focus and concentrated effort, both mental and sometimes physical as well.
Listening means paying attention not only to the story, but how it is told, the use of language and voice, and how the other person uses his or her body. In other words, it means being aware of both verbal and non-verbal messages. Your ability to listen effectively depends on the degree to which you perceive and understand these messages.
Listening is not a passive process. In fact, the listener can, and should, be at least as engaged in the process as the speaker. The phrase ‘active listening’ is used to describe this process of being fully involved.
Related reading: ‘Active Listening’