Listening: What it is and Why You Should Care

When was the last time you engaged in an complicated, in depth process without giving one second's thought to preparing?

Rarely, if ever, right? 

Complicated processes need adequate attention. Yet for some reason we think listening deserves little to no attention at all when studies suggest that we spend up to 55 % our day listening or involved in listening related activities.

What Listening Is

One text(1) book defined listening as the process of selecting, attending to, creating meaning from, remembering, and responding to verbal and nonverbal messages. 

Another textbook(2) defines it as the active process of making meaning out of another's spoken message. 

As these definition point out, the activity of listening is by definition complicated. It is described as in depth, active, and a process. 


What Listening is NOT

It is easier to define listening by what it is not. In fact, a 2003(5) study showed that individuals agree less on the ratings of good listeners, but agree more on the ratings of poor listeners.

Poor listening is easier to recognize than good listening.

As I alluded too in the video, listening is not:
  • Agreement: agreement may or may not be a side effect of listening. Because you listen does not mean you are agreeing with the speaker. 
  • For the weak: One study(6) suggests that confident individuals listen to message content better than individuals who lack confidence. Your ability to listen to others shows confidence.
  • Permission: You do not grant permission to the speaker to proceed with any suggest he or she is making. 

Why you should care

Yes, there are good benefits of listening but big deal. Why should YOU take time out of your already hectic day to learn or practice yet one more thing?

Because this is one of the few skills that touches EVERY area of your life.

Unless you live alone on a island far removed from other human contact, you are going to not only need but demonstrate the ability to listen.Your ability to listen affects your professional, personal, and spiritual growth. 

As one joke goes, a manager calls in an employee and says, "Fred, you get along with everyone. What is your secret?" Fred replied, "No one hates a listener."

I don't blame people for not thinking much about listening. We know it is something that is generally good. 

But as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, challenges, we can't settle for good. Knowing that listening is a good skill to have is not enough. We need to take the leap to become great listeners.

Sources sited: 
1. Interpersonal Communication: The Whole Story by Kory Floyd, Chapter 7 p.260 
2. Interpersonal Communication: Relating to other 5th Edith by Steven Beebe, Susan Beebe, and Mark Redmond p. 126
3. Wienmann, J.M. (1977). Explication and test of a model of communication competence. Human Communication Research, 3, 195-213.
4. Timm, S. & Schroeder, B.L. (2000). Listening/nonverbal communication training. International Journal of Listening, 14, 109-128.
5. Cooper, L.O. & Buchanan, T. (2003). Personality taking aim at good targets: Inter-rater agreement of listening competency. International Journal of Listening, 17, 88-114.
6. Clark, A.J. (1989). Communication confidence and listening competence: An investigation of the relationships of willingness to communicate, communication apprehension, and receiver apprehension to comprehension of content and emotional meaning in spoken messages. Communication Education, 38(3), 237-249.

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