On average, adults spend 70% of their time engaged in some kind of communication. Of this, an average of 45% is spent listening, compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing.
To be sure, hearing is not the same as listening. Hearing is the physiological process of registering in the mind what is spoken. Listening on the other hand is an active process that constructs meaning from the verbal and nonverbal messages, given the context in which the words are spoken and your prior knowledge about the issue or situation that is being discussed.
Listening is an important skill, yet we are not taught how to listen at any point in our education or training. There are plenty of courses out there on how to read and comprehend better, how to improve your writing, and how to be more proficient at public speaking, but hardly any on how to master the art of listening.
Statistics show that most adults forget 50-75 percent of what they hear within 24 hours of hearing it. Good listening improves your productivity at work, and your ability to persuade, influence and negotiate. It can also build better relationships by signaling that you care, by allowing you to get to know each other, while also letting you avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.
There are five distinct stages in listening: receiving, understanding, remembering, evaluating, and responding. However, all these stages are also somewhat overlapping and interrelated. If you understand the importance of these five stages you can become a better listener, thinker, and communicator.
Receiving is the first and most basic stage in the listening process. It is the act of actually absorbing what information is being communicated to you either verbally or non-verbally. Body language in the form of facial expressions, posture and gestures can also convey important messages, either amplifying or contradicting what is being spoken. Focus all your energy and pay attention to what is being communicated.
You should (1) Avoid distractions – such as noise, cell phone, TV, looking out of the window etc., (2) Avoid interrupting the speaker – do not preempt what the speaker is going to say nor talk in between or complete sentences for him. You could give clues that you are listening, with either head nods or interjections like “uh huh” etc., (3) Avoid rehearsing your response – do not plan how you are going to respond as the speaker is speaking; otherwise, you will miss listening to some important messages.
Understanding is the next stage. After the speaker has finished communicating his message to you, you need to process its meaning and plan to respond. If there is any lack of clarity on any part of the message, then ask questions or paraphrase what the speaker has said, to confirm that you have understood rightly.
Remembering is the third stage in listening. Though it bears some similarities to the first two stages, it goes beyond both. Since this depends on how good your memory is, you can learn and practice some memory-improving techniques. You can also remember better by (1) identifying the main ideas and grouping other ideas around them, and (2) relating the main ideas to something you already know.
Evaluation is the fourth stage. Here you sort the information with regard to facts and opinions and note any biases and prejudices in the speaker and what his intentions are. Make sure your own assumptions and prejudices are not biasing you.
Now you are ready to respond – the last stage. Here you are transitioning from being a listener to a speaker. If the earlier stages have been gone through smoothly, then this stage is easy. However, make sure your response is appropriate to what has been communicated. While these five stages look lengthy, all this happens naturally and in a short span of time. These tips are only to let you become conscious of the way you listen and avoid the bad habits of listening.