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Effective Listening

Just as 70 per cent of daily routine for most of us is spent in communication, it is surprising to know that the biggest part is spent listening: as much as from 45 to 55 per cent. At the same time, experts have estimated that an average person can only effectively listen from one-third to two-thirds of the overall time he or she spends listening. In this paper, I will provide two examples of effective listening, namely listening to influence others and listening to relate to others.

Listening to influence and listening to relate to others are, first of all, the types of active listening. It means that it is not enough to listen passively, but make efforts to understand the speaker, correctly interpret the message, reassure a person, or make him or her come to finding a compromise, a so-called “win-win” situation. As my experience has shown, active listening is not only about decoding words and phrases uttered by the speaker, i.e. verbal messages, but also about interpreting the non-verbal clues. The latter include the use of facial expressions, voice tone, body language, as well as eye contact. With humans generally giving off hundreds of unspoken and nonverbal messages daily, the body language makes up as much as 90 per cent of all communication. Under the term body language, we typically mean a range of body movements that includes various signals and gestures. Importantly, individuals may use body movements in the following ways: as their code or instruction (in this case, the use of body language replaces uttered messages and serves to relay information), as an emphasizer (in this case, the use of body language serves to draw attention to certain things), and as an indicator (in this case, the use of body language serves to provide an additional kind of commentary). Besides, body language happens to be positive and negative for senders (depending on whether it helps the speaker achieve the initial goal of speech or shows some feelings that the sender would not want to demonstrate). In the following part of the paper, I will show how active listening and the speaker’s use of body language have helped me act as an effective listener.

The first example is my listening to persuade. There once was a situation when I had to persuade my nephew’s classmate not to bully him. My nephew told me that his classmate was bullying him because of his being overweight. He terrorized him by calling names, forcing him to do things he did not want, and sometimes even beating him. When I was having a conversation with the bully, my purpose was to know his version of why he bullied my nephew and his view of whether he had a right to do so. I did not want to persuade by intimidation but by common sense and appeal to his humanity. First of all, I used active listening to identify that the bully was lying when talking to me and saying he did not do this or that. As I listened to the bully, I noticed that his face as a face of a lying individual grew stiffer as well as paler (a sign of his being stressed), his lips grew tighter and thinner, and, importantly, his eye contact often broke away from me. Besides, the tone of his voice became high pitched, and the boy was fidgeting in his chair. Those were the signs of his lying. I told him that what he said did not ring true and told him I understood his situation (a single-parent family, with 5 children). Afterward, I started explaining to him how bad it was to bully another person. Finally, the boy apologized. He also came up to my nephew and said he wanted to make friends.

In the second case, I was listening to relate to my friend. Again, I was effective as a listener because I used all my empathy to show how much I care about what he was saying. My friend had lost his dad and was telling me all the details of his death. I did my best to be an effective listener: I used body language to cuddle my friend while talking with him (this way I showed my genuine support and acted to reduce the level of his stress); also, I communicated what I heard to my friend to show how much I understand him and that I can feel what he feels.

Overall, effective listening requires additional effort from the listener, yet it brings wonderful fruit. Not only does it help understand others better, but it helps the listener achieve his aims without much speaking or persuasion, simply by being empathic and use body language knowledge.

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