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Good listening involves a set of skills and attitudes that go beyond simply hearing words. It’s a multi-faceted process that requires active engagement with the speaker and ourselves.  

Listen to Ourselves and Reflect

Listening to ourselves and reflecting involves self-awareness and the ability to reflect on our thoughts, feelings, and reactions during a conversation. This involves being mindful of our internal dialogue and biases while listening to others. By tuning into our reactions and thoughts, we can better understand how they may influence our interpretation of what’s being said. Reflective listening also includes processing the information received and considering its implications before responding.

    • Internal Awareness: Before truly hearing others, we must tune into our internal state. Are we distracted, upset, or preoccupied? Recognising these internal barriers allows us to address them and create a space for focused listening.
    • Non-Judgmental Reflection: Once we quiet our inner chatter, we can reflect on what we’ve heard. This involves analysing our initial reactions, identifying biases or assumptions, and approaching the speaker’s message with an open mind.
    • Metacognition: Reflecting on the listening process itself is critical. Did we ask clarifying questions? Did we offer nonverbal cues of engagement? Evaluating our listening behaviour helps us identify areas for improvement and continuously refine our skills.
    • Mindfulness: Being present in the moment and entirely focused on the speaker’s message without letting personal thoughts or distractions interfere.
    • Reflective Practice: After a conversation, analysing our reactions, biases, and assumptions helps improve self-awareness.

Check Whether Attending Carefully

Attending carefully means actively focusing on the speaker and the message being communicated. It’s essential to assess our level of attentiveness continually. This means regularly asking ourselves if we are fully engaged with the speaker or if our minds are wandering. Checking attention also involves being mindful of distractions and actively working to eliminate them, ensuring we give the speaker our undivided attention.

    • Active Attention: Good listening requires actively engaging with the speaker’s message. This means maintaining eye contact, nodding, leaning in, and using encouraging body language.
    • Paraphrasing and Summarising: Actively rephrasing and summarising what we’ve heard allows us to confirm our understanding and demonstrate to the speaker that we’re paying attention.
    • Non-Verbal Cues: Pay attention to the speaker’s tone, facial expressions, and gestures. These nonverbal cues often offer additional meaning and nuance to the spoken words.
    • Verbal Cues: Providing feedback and clarifying questions to confirm understanding and maintain engagement.

Empathetic Listening

Empathetic listening involves understanding and sharing the feelings and perspectives of the speaker. Empathic listening goes beyond just understanding the words; it’s about connecting with the speaker’s emotions and mood. This type of listening requires an open mind, putting aside one’s feelings to fully appreciate the speaker’s point of view. It’s about validating their feelings and experiences through acknowledgement, which can build trust and deeper connections.

    • Putting Ourselves in the Speaker’s Shoes: To truly understand someone, we must try to see things from their perspective. This involves considering their background, experiences, and emotions, even if they differ from our own.
    • Validating Feelings: Acknowledge and validate the speaker’s emotions, even if you don’t necessarily share them. This shows you care about their experience and encourages them to open up and express themselves further.
    • Building Rapport: Empathy fosters connection and trust. You create a safe space for open communication and more profound understanding by showing genuine interest and concern for the speaker.
    • Active Empathy: Going beyond understanding the words to grasp the emotions and intentions behind the message.

Benefits of Good Listening

Building Relationships

Effective listening creates a strong foundation for trust and rapport in personal and professional relationships.

Conflict Resolution

Empathetic listening helps understand different perspectives, facilitate constructive dialogue, and resolve conflicts.

Improved Communication

Good listeners can better comprehend and respond appropriately to messages, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings.

Enhanced Learning

Actively engaging with information during a conversation promotes better retention and understanding of the content.

Personal Development

Reflective listening contributes to personal growth by fostering self-awareness and providing opportunities for learning from others.

Tips for Effective Listening

    • Be Present: Eliminate distractions and focus on the speaker.
    • Use Non-Verbal Cues: Demonstrate attentiveness through body language.
    • Ask Clarifying Questions: Seek clarification to ensure understanding.
    • Avoid Interrupting: Allow the speaker to express themselves fully before responding.
    • Practice Empathy: Try to understand the speaker’s emotions and perspective.

Poor Listening

Poor listening occurs when individuals fail to give full attention to the speaker, resulting in a lack of understanding or miscommunication. It occurs when:

    • there is an inappropriate level of eye contact (too much or too little)
    • we interrupt and finish sentences and wait impatiently for our chance to speak, correct or undermine what we said
    • we communicate with someone else simultaneously (or on the phone)
    • we try to re-interpret what the speaker said in our terms and tell them about our experience, making theirs seem less important
    • we provide an answer for their problem before they have finished telling you what it is
    • we give advice when it has not been asked for
    • we stay silent and give non-verbal signals, leading to a break in rapport
    • we stop listening because we assume we know what the other person means or is going to say 

Good listening involves attending to others and being attuned to our thoughts and reactions. It requires active engagement, careful attention, and empathy. Developing these skills can lead to more meaningful and productive communication. Good listening is a continuous process, not a one-time achievement. Be patient and enjoy becoming a more mindful and empathetic listener. The efforts will be rewarded with stronger relationships, better communication, and a deeper understanding of the world.

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.