Effective Listeners Essay

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Listening Skills

Introduction

Communication has various parts which could be effective with a view of improving the productivity and effectiveness of interaction. Listening is one part of communication that must also gain huge priority by an individual. Whatever is useful and beneficial must be interpreted in proper and way and reacting upon it accordingly is an art which is required to learn in proper way. The development of listening skills could be result oriented at various large scales in order to avail various advantages. It is to acknowledge that the listening skills help in two ways first is that the relationship within the organization could be build very easily and second factor is that it might help with respect to understand the mindset of person who is conveying the message. It is clear that the through effective hearing the thought process, the tone, gestures should be recorded and the idea of their actual message could be interpreted easily (Housel, 2001). Once an individual is able to understand the real reasons behind the message then the essence of effective listening comes into existence. Further for the purpose of building the personal as well professional relationship the huge consideration must be given to the development of listening skills.

Listening and its role in clarifying communication:

As mentioned above that the effective listening helps in interpreting the message that has been conveyed by other person. Effective listening is not only a task restricted to focus on words but it also involves reading the gestures, facial expression and tone of voice. Most importantly it is also clear that the people should understand as well that in what kind of circumstances the message has been delivered. All these aspects are part of effective listening and if one is clear with all these aspects then the communication could be established in proper manner. Therefore the interpretation of message is something which makes the communication very much effective.

Further it is also clear that the meaning of words never remains the same for different people. The difference in their meaning and message could be noticed at very large scale. It could be understandable with the help of example. For instance if a manager has asked help from experience employee then it definitely means guidance and if the help has been demanded form sub ordinates then it represents the assistance (Downs, 2008). It is clear that manager wants help only but the age difference, position difference and most importantly the level of experience creates lots of difference. Thus it becomes clear that words could never be presented in same manner for all people.

Benefits of listening in organizational setting:

There are various benefits of effective listening skills within the organization. The major factor is that whatever strategies and policies have been stated by the managers verbally those could be followed by the sub ordinates in proper manner. Ahead sometime the situation occurs that managers pass the instructions only through some normal or light discussion topics at that time if the employees are perfect listeners then the essence of message could be catches by them and positive results could be availed in proper manner. Ahead it is also clear that in scenario of confusion the listening could be effective. The organization that follows the informal communication structure they normally have the people who are good listeners and grasp the message in simple manner. ahead the organizational settings normally arranges the seminars and conferences which could have various benefits and purposes to come into existence., It is to acknowledge that purpose of seminars and conferences into increase the motivation of employee or to pass some set of instructions or providing the information about future opportunities within the organization (Kratz, 2005). So if the audience is effective listeners then the motivation could be boost easily and the purposes of seminars and conferences could be easily passed on. Further the effective listeners always remain attentive and disciplined as they understood situation as well. Thus in this way the organization can definitely increase their efficiency through effective listening.

Barriers to effective listening:

It is to acknowledge that listening is not very easy task that every person can develop this skill overnight. There is huge requirement of focusing on the fact that the listening should be developed in painstaking way and continuous practice is also required at very large scale. The major barriers are related to the low level of concentration. If any person doesn’t have good concentration then troubles could be experienced with respect to understanding or interpreting the message of another person (Burley-Allen, 1995). Further other barriers could be related to giving less importance to any conversation or discussion. So many people have this tendency that they never give adequate amount of consideration to the talks of other people and didn’t listen it in proper way. Thus this kind of lenient and unprofessional approach could create barriers in effective listening. Further as mentioned above that effective listening has its relevancy with the concentration so high level of stress is something that can minimize the concentration and problems in active listening could be noticed. The aspects can definitely affect the listening abilities of people in negative manner (Burley-Allen, 1995). The worst of the entire situation is that if people think themselves always right and the feeling of ego take over their emotions. At this situation people don’t listen to others. Therefore giving respect and minimizing the ego both should work parallel to each another with respect to increase listening skills.

Non verbal messages as listening skills:

The whole discussion already states that the understanding of gestures and facial expressions is also a part of effective listening. Hearing and understanding both work together. It is clear that when people show their facial expressions then also they have certain emotions behind their expressions which are required to be understood in proper way. It helps in two ways; first that the situation or emotion of people could be understood and the changes in behavioral aspects could bring accordingly (Vowels and McMahon, 2002). For instance if manager is getting angry with their staff the people who read their anger can try to bring some change and try to impress them. Further if someone is putting their trust on other individual then reading the trust or faith could deliver the confidence into another person. In this the message which is coming from other side, no matter verbal or non verbal communication, must be understood effectively (Vowels and McMahon, 2002). It increases the efficiency and the major aim of listening, building the personal as well as professional relationship could become possible.

Conclusion

Thus on the basis of four discussed areas the importance or the role or challenges associated to listening skills could be portrayed in proper manner. It is clear that listening is equally important as passing the instructions has gained within the organizations. Further the role of non verbal communication as part of listening skill is the interesting factor that can help in gaining the knowledge form this study (Everest, 2007). Ahead after identifying the barriers related to improving the communication skills the proper strategies could be developed to deal with problems and issues.

References

Everest, F., 2007. Critical Listening Skills for Audio Professionals. Thomson Course Technology.

Downs, L., 2008. Listening Skills Training. American Society for Training and Developmen.

Kratz., O., 2005. Effective Listening Skills. Tata McGraw-Hill Education.

Housel, D., 2001. Developing Listening Skills. Teacher Created Resources.

Burley-Allen, M., 1995. John Wiley & Sons.

Vowels, T. and McMahon, K., 2002. Listening Skills for Young Children. Teacher Created Resources.

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Listening Effectively

In a Nutshell
        Almost everyone sincerely believes that he or she listens effectively.  Consequently, very few people think they need to develop their listening skills.  But, in fact, listening effectively is something that very few of us can do.  It's not because listening effectively is so difficult.  Most of us have just never developed the habits that would make us effective listeners.
        Research has found that by listening effectively, you will get more information from the people you manage, you will increase others' trust in you, you will reduce conflict, you will better understand how to motivate others, and you will inspire a higher level of commitment in the people you manage.

In This Issue


You Probably Don't Listen as Effectively as You Think You Do ... and You Probably Don't Know It
        A study of over 8,000 people employed in businesses, hospitals, universities, the military and government agencies found that virtually all of the respondents believed that they communicate as effectively or more effectively than their co-workers.1  (Could everyone be above average?)  However, research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.2  While most people agree that listening effectively is a very important skill, most people don't feel a strong need to improve their own skill level.3

Why Effective Listening Matters
        To a large degree, effective leadership is effective listening.  A study of managers and employees of a large hospital system found that listening explained 40% of the variance in leadership.4  That's a big correlation by social science standards (like r = .63).
        Effective listening is a way of showing concern for subordinates, and that fosters cohesive bonds, commitment, and trust.  Effective listening tends to reduce the frequency of interpersonal conflict and increases the likelihood that when conflicts emerge they will be resolved with a "win-win" solution.  In addition, if you listen to the people you manage, you will learn "what makes them tick."  When you know what makes them tick, you will be more effective at motivating them.  You can encourage them when they need encouraging, and you will know what kinds of things they value as rewards for a job well done (e.g., additional responsibility, public praise, autonomy, etc.).

What Effective Listening Is
        Effective listening is actively absorbing the information given to you by a speaker, showing that you are listening and interested, and providing feedback to the speaker so that he or she knows the message was received.  Delivering verbal communication, like writing a newsletter, involves trying to choose the right words and nonverbal cues to convey a message that will be interpreted in the way that you intend.  Effective listeners show speakers that they have been heard and understood.

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How the Most Skilled Communicators Respond When Listening
        The most skilled communicators match their responses to the situation.  In discussions with the people you manage, it helps to differentiate the coaching situations from the counseling situations.  Coaching is providing advice and information or setting standards to help your employees to improve their skills and their performance.  Counseling is helping subordinates recognize and address problems involving their emotions, attitudes, motivation, or personalities.
        The most common mismatch of response types to situations is the tendency a lot of us have--myself included--to give advice or deflect in a situation where counseling is appropriate.  When you are counseling, "reflecting" and "probing" are usually more appropriate responses than "advising" or "deflecting."
        Reflecting.  As mentioned above, when we listen we should show the other party that what they are saying to us is being heard.  Since we can think at about four times the speed that speakers can speak, our brains have a lot of capacity that can be used to process the meaning of what's being said.  Reflecting is paraphrasing back to the speaker what they said.  One of the things a lot of us find when we try to use this technique is that it's real a challenge.  We don't want to just parrot back what was said; we want to paraphrase.  It takes creativity to think of appropriate ways to paraphrase what we've heard.
        Reflecting can take other forms than paraphrasing back to someone what was just said.  For instance, a listener can summarize what he or she heard and also take the conversation a step further by asking a question for clarification or elaboration.
        One of the things we often notice when we reflect during a conversation is that the meaning we have ascribed to what we've heard has missed the speaker's intended meaning.  When speakers hear us reflect, they get a chance to correct any misunderstanding that we have.  That proves that this technique does truly clarify communication.
        For most of us, it takes a lot of practice before we become natural and effective at reflecting.  Our first few efforts may sound forced, phony, patronizing, or as one of my MBA students put it, "moronic."  However, that doesn't mean we should give up learning how to reflect.
        Probing.  In addition to reflecting, the most skilled communicators' responses in counseling situations involve a lot of probing.  Probing means asking for additional information.  Not all questions you might ask will be effective.  Avoid questions that challenge what has been said because that will put the speaker on the defensive (e.g., "How could you have thought that?").  In addition, a question that changes the subject before the current subject is resolved isn't effective communication.  Effective probing is nonjudgmental and flows from what was previously said.  Good probing questions ask for elaboration, clarification, and repetition (if, for instance, an important question you asked wasn't answered).
        Deflecting.  Deflecting responses shift the discussion to another topic.  When we deflect from what we've been told, rather than acknowledging it, we can unintentionally communicate that we haven't listened and that we aren't interested.  Deflecting shows that we're preoccupied with another topic.
        Many of us deflect unwittingly by sharing our personal experiences when we should be focusing on the other party.  Think about this from the speaker's perspective: You don't feel like you've been heard when you share a concern with someone and they respond by telling you about themselves.  The responder gives you the impression that they aren't even listening, and that they just want to talk about themselves.  Sometimes we mention our own experiences as a way of saying that we can relate to the speaker's experiences.  Our intention is to say, "Your not alone."  But, when we tell our stories we risk sending a message that we aren't listening and don't care.  Don't be a topper--the kind of person who can tell a story to top any story that they're told.  We all know a topper, don't we?  In a small way, toppers communicate that they are superior.  That's not supportive!
        This is not to say that sharing your experiences is never a helpful.  On the contrary, mentors often help their protégés by relating their own experiences as a way to reassure their protégés that their concerns are normal and that their problems are solvable.  But, in counseling situations, be careful to use deflecting only at appropriate times.
        Speakers may not know that you have heard and understood what they have said if you deflect by moving on to another topic or shifting the focus to yourself or your own experiences.
        Advising.  It can be insulting to give advice to someone who has shared his or her problems with you.  I used to work for a guy who would ask me daily, "How are things going?"  On the days when I would groan about a problem I was wrangling with, his response would be to suggest what I should do about it.  That really bothered me.  I value self-reliance and I like solving puzzles, so I don't like someone telling me how to solve my problems.  Maybe I'm hypersensitive.  But, I actually felt like that manager didn't respect my ability to solve my own problems.  I wanted the self-satisfaction for finding the solutions myself, and I wanted him to respect my problem-solving abilities.  His communication style didn't support that.  I'm sure the advice my manager was giving me was well intended.  Nevertheless, I didn't want to hear it.  So, I stopped telling him what was bothering me.  If he would have just listened instead of advising, I would have shared more and we would have built a stronger bond.  Instead, his advising caused me to clam up and it undermined his ability to understand what I was going through.
        Perhaps I was being too sensitive.  Nevertheless, reactions like mine are common enough that you will want to be careful to avoid giving unsolicited advice if you want to be an effective listener.  In fact, Deborah Tannen has found that this problem is particularly common between men and women in the workplace.5  Women often discuss their problems and concerns with men just as a means of developing interpersonal bonds.  When men respond by giving advice, they may believe they are being helpful to their female counterparts.  But, if no advice is solicited then providing it is a little presumptuous, and it actually undermines the opportunity to further develop a cohesive bond with that female coworker.
        I, as a man, have a real problem keeping my advice to myself.  When someone is telling me about a problem they're having, I can barely control the impulse to tell them what they should do.  But, I ought to know that people usually don't want my advice.  On average, people probably ask me for my advice about two or three times a month--that's it.  All the other times I give advice it is just because I like to.  When I give my unsolicited advice, I've stopped listening and started to dominate the dialogue.  (Imagine how frustrating that is for my wife and my students.)
        If you're like me and you like to give advice, try fighting the urge as long as you can.  Just reflect what you've hear and probe for additional information.  Then, when you think the time is right to provide your words of wisdom, say something like, "Let me know if you'd like some advice.  I've got some thoughts about that."  You might be surprised by how few people take you up on that offer.

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Typical Objections to These Effective Listening Techniques
        As I teach these principles to managers on and off campus, I hear a lot of objections to using them.  Here are three common objections:

  • Reflecting slows down the conversation and wastes time.  Yes, your time is a valuable resource, and you do want to invest it carefully.  Reflecting takes time, but it can save time too.  Many times reflecting does more than show the other party that they are being heard; it also serves as a check for accurate understanding and provides an opportunity for clarification.  Reflecting takes time, but so does correcting errors due to miscommunication.
  • Reflecting sounds phony/patronizing/moronic.  Skilled listeners know that tactfully showing that you have heard what someone has said by reflecting it back to them requires creativity, and they've had to practice creative paraphrasing and reflecting to become good at it.  Yes, the process of learning how to use reflecting can be awkward for people who are inexperienced with it.  However, be very careful not to avoid practicing and learning a skill just because you're concerned that you will not immediately be proficient.  It's better to develop communication skills over time, despite the possible awkward stage, than to completely avoid developing those skills due to a fear of the initial awkwardness.
  • I don't have time to be the confidante of all my direct reports.  Yes, there is a time-management issue.  It might seem that the best way to use your time is to hear the problems, give advice, and move on.  That may or may not be good time management.  Think carefully about the consequences of showing your staff that spending time listening to them is not important enough to be a high priority for you.  Managers who make it a high priority develop strong relationships, employee commitment and a support network for themselves.


Practicing This Management Skill
        Fortunately for those of us who want to develop our listening skills, we get lots of opportunities.  To develop your listening skills, plan to use the response type that you think you need to emphasize (e.g., reflecting) and plan to avoid using the response types that you want to de-emphasize (e.g., advising).  Then, after you have a conversation, evaluate how effective you were at giving good responses as a listener.  Identify what went well and where the opportunities for improvement are.  Think about what that challenges to being an effective listener were and how you can deal with those challenges more effectively next time.
        Monday mornings are a perfect time to practice your effective listening.  Just start a conversation with a co-worker or employee by saying, "How was your weekend?"  From there, just probe and reflect.  In ten minutes, you can actually get to know the other person a little better and show that you're interested in them.
        Kids seem to be willing to let us practice our effective listening.  Seems like if you ask kids questions, reflect their answers back to them and probe a little further, they really open up.  It's like you're their new best friend because you've shown an interest in them.  They'll forgive us if we sound a little patronizing--they're used to it.
        Making a tape recording of a conversation, if you can find a willing partner, can also help you evaluate your performance.  With a tape of a conversation, you can examine each response you give in detail, without relying on your memory.

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Notes
1.  Haney, W. V.  (1979).  Communication and interpersonal relations.  Homewood, IL: Irwin.
2.  Husman, R. C., Lahiff, J. M., & Penrose, J. M.  (1988). Business communication: Strategies and skills.  Chicago: Dryden Press.
3.  Spitzberg, B. H.  (1994).  The dark side of (in)competence.  In W.R. Cupach & B. H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The dark side of interpersonal communication.  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
4.  Kramer, R.  (1997).  Leading by listening: An empirical test of Carl Rogers's theory of human relationship using interpersonal assessments of leaders by followers.  Doctoral dissertation, The George Washington University.
5.  Tannen, D.  (1995).  Talking from 9 to 5: Women and men in the workplace: Language sex and power.  New York: Avon.

Additional Sources and References
        Robbins, S. P.  (2000). Managing today!, (2nd ed.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall.
        Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S.  (2002).  Developing management skills, (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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        LeaderLetter is written by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.  It is a supplement to my MBA 751 - Managing People in Organizations class.  It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe.  In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone who they believe would have an interest in it.  To subscribe, simply send an e-mail message to me requesting subscription.  Of course, subscriptions to the newsletter are free.  To unsubscribe, e-mail a reply indicating that you would like to unsubscribe.

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A Good, Clean Joke
        Two blond guys were working on a house. The one who was nailing down siding would reach into his nail pouch, pull out a nail and either toss it over his shoulder or nail it in.  The other blonde, figuring this was worth looking into, asked, "Why are you throwing those nails away?"
        The first blonde explained, "If I pull a nail out of my pouch and it's pointed toward me, I throw it away 'cause it's defective. If it's pointed toward the house, then I nail it in."
        The second blonde got very upset and yelled, "You jerk! The nails pointed toward you aren't defective! They're for the OTHER side of the house!"

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