Listening as a vital communication skill

Listening is a communication skill that enables people to understand the messages that others convey to them in spoken language. It is given as the first in the chronological order of communication skills which are as follows: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Listening goes beyond the mere ability to perceive sounds, which is known as hearing. While you may not have control over what you hear, you can control what you listen to. This is because listening demands the cognitive effort to process sounds for their meanings and other purposes such as their inherent connotations, stances and ideologies. Listening is an often trivialised yet highly important skill. This is because the quality and depth of a person’s speech is greatly tied to how much of an attentive listener s/he is. Crucially, this treatise will discuss listening techniques, types of listening and the barriers to listening.

There are techniques that facilitate or ease listening. The first among them is attentive listening. Anyone who hopes to get the gist of any talk must pay rapt attention. Distractions must be avoided if one must get the details of any spoken language. Again, successful listening demands withholding judgement. It is difficult to get the essence of any spoken communication if one sets out with pre-conceived ideas about the speaker’s message.

Hence, it is important to give speakers the benefit of the doubt; do not get to the end of their talks before them. The message is clearer when we are not judgemental, and it even makes it easier to tell when the speaker is being biased. Another technique that makes listening effective is reflection. To reflect is to think deeply and carefully about something. Reflecting on a person’s speech helps to make a logical deduction from his/her talk. Another technique of effective listening is clarification.

A listener should feel comfortable to seek clarification from a speaker, but this should not happen as an interruption. It is advisable to note whatever is confusing or ambiguous and seek clarification after the speaker’s speech.

Summarising a talk is another technique of effective listening. When we try to restate the major aspects or foci of a speech, it serves as a means of ascertaining our level of comprehension. The last technique of listening is sharing. We validate our listening skills by sharing to the speaker our understanding of his/her talk, or by relaying such information or by applying it as a situation may demand.

Moving on to the types of listening, the first type is informational listening. This type of listening is adopted to get the details of a talk. It demands high attention and concentration. Such listening involves critical thinking and a deductive ability.

The second type of listening is discriminative listening. It is the type that is aided by paralinguistic cues such as tone and pitch. This is the type of listening that helps us tell apart speech acts such as shout, threat and many more. It is what instigates a child to either cry or laugh even when the child does not use whatever language. Biased listening is the third type, and it is also called selective reasoning.

Read also: Non-verbal communication as a tool for effective teaching

This type of listening involves paying attention to the information that interests the listeners. This might be the type of listening engaged in by the party faithful who are listening to a member of an opposition party speak or a subordinate who only wants to get the details of an assignment in the talk of a superior. Sympathetic listening is another type of listening, and this involves a feeling of pity towards the speaker. In this kind of listening, the listener is guided by emotion rather than the logic in a talk.

The last type of listening I will discuss in this article is critical listening. In this type of listening, the listener has to infer, process and evaluate the talk, not only on the surface value of the sentences, but also for the inherent implications that such expressions carry.

The rest of this piece will discuss the barriers to effective listening. The first barrier is the desire to impose our thoughts on what we listen to. The first task of a listener is to carefully process a talk and appreciate it from the speaker’s perspective. This makes our reaction much more of constructive criticism than condemnation. The second barrier to effective listening is to bring our assessments of a speaker into our processing of his/her talk.

Whatever a listener’s perception is of a speaker, it must be separated in processing the speaker’s speech to avoid bias. Another challenge to effective listening is being more intelligent than the speaker. It makes the listener think faster than the speaker, and such may colour the listener’s assessment of the speaker.

As listeners, we must understand that the speaker is in control of the discourse, and it is best to move at the speaker’s pace to get the gist of his/her talk.

Finally, an emotional state can serve as a barrier to effective listening. It is important that one put aside whatever emotional situation one is in, if the essence of a talk must be got.

This treatise has discussed listening as an important communicative skill. Emphases have been laid on its techniques, types and barriers. As such, it is hoped that the readership will be better listeners after a proper digestion of this piece.

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