The art of listening


Vipasha Naik

Psychology Associate

A study conducted by the International Listening Association (Rankin,1930) shows that an individual spends approximately 42% of his communication time, listening, followed by 32% of the time spent in speaking, 11 % in writing, and 15% in reading. Strangely, we are taught how to read, write, and speak in schools, but not how to listen. We often use the word ‘hearing’ as a synonym to ‘listening’. But do they mean the same thing?

Hearing is an involuntary activity and requires no extra effort from a person. A person only needs ears to hear something. Hearing is ‘the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations in your ear.’ Basically, it is a physical process.

On the other hand, Listening is a voluntary activity and requires a person to give his/her full attention. While listening, one not only needs ears but also a mind and a heart. Listening is ‘the process of receiving, constructing meaning from responding to spoken and/or non-verbal messages.’

It is a deeper mental and emotional process and not just a physical one. Moreover, listening doesn’t mean only paying attention to a person’s words. True listening includes paying attention to words, tone, and most importantly the body language. Surprisingly, we tend to listen 10% by words, 30% by tone, and 60% by body language.

Listening is indeed a skill and most of us are not so good at it. So how do we decide whether we know how to listen properly? Let’s ask ourselves a question to get to know the answer: ‘Am I truly satisfied with all my relationships? Be it personal or professional.’ If we honestly answer this question, we get the answer to the previous question as well. If you are a parent, you may have a complaint that your child doesn’t listen to you. But if you pause and think, isn’t it possible that your child has the same complaint about you? Parents and children, bosses and employees, husband and wife, and many such relationships usually have a common problem, of not listening to each other in the right way. And this problem becomes a reason for clashes and conflicts. For any relationship to sustain, there has to be a basic understanding between people. How can we truly understand each other if we cannot listen to what the other person is saying?

There are a few common errors that we all make while listening. Often, we jump to conclusions of what is right and what is wrong without listening to the complete story. We start making judgments and giving our opinions even when it is not asked for. Also, we start giving our suggestions and advise the speaker, based on our own understanding and experiences, which may be completely different from that of the speaker. We start making assumptions in our mind while the conversation is going on or simply zone out while someone is talking. These mistakes interrupt the communication and the speaker does not feel understood.

If done correctly, listening is all you need to revive a spoilt relationship. It is something that forms the base for meaningful relationships. All we need to truly listen to someone is attention, and empathy. Giving someone our undivided attention can do wonders. It can make the speaker realize that we genuinely care. Being empathetic means understanding what he/she must be going through while talking.

The listener should step into the speaker’s shoes, to understand the feelings behind what is said. If we listen to someone with complete attention and empathy, they feel like they are being cared and that they can trust us. And this makes the relationship stronger.

Next time we enter into a misunderstanding or conflict with someone, let’s make it a point to sit and just listen to each other with full attention and empathy. Here are a few tips to help listen better:

• Make sure to not use your phone or anything else that distracts you while talking to someone.
• Maintain eye contact during the conversation.
• If possible, prefer talking in a quiet and noise-free place to avoid disturbances.
• Try to be mindful while talking and observe the person’s body language without being judgemental.
• Resist your urge to interrupt and let the speaker finish.
• Ask questions whenever required to gain more clarity on what the speaker is saying. This will also assure the speaker that you are genuinely concerned.
• Reflect, or confirm back what you understood from the conversation along with the words and feelings. For instance, if someone tells you, ‘I don’t want to go to the party after that incident happened.’ You can confirm it saying that ‘I understand you are embarrassed about what happened and you don’t feel like going.’ Here, embarrassment is the feeling.
• Ask the speaker if he/she wants you to give suggestions, advice, or feedback. Give it only if asked.

Listening is indeed the key to building trust and understanding in all relationships, personal and professional. All it takes is attention and empathy!

View more content by Vipasha Naik

Discussion Board

Do you think listening is actually a skill and it can transform interpersonal relationships?

Yes. Most people are so eager to say something and/or pass judgement that they don't pay attention to what the other person is saying. It is indeed a rare skill in today's world 😇
Umang Chhatrola
Let us compare two TED talks given by Julian Treasure. ’How to speak so that others listen’ has 27 million views on YouTube as I write this. ’5 ways to listen better’ has only 2.8 million views. 😁 Articles like this are much needed.