Effective Listening and the LeaderListening is the communicating skill used more than any other is, it is also the least trained CITATION Dic93 l 1033 (Lee, 1993 ). Becoming an effective listener is especially significant to the leader. A leader is required to understand their subordinate’s issues and assist in solving them. Active listening is the greatest tool in the leader’s arsenal to connect with and to develop a subordinate. Although active listening can be such a great resource, many people do not understand what it is, where to find faults in listening, or how to use active listening techniques. Active listening is not taught in schools, and most people don’t know how to use it, but it can be taught, like any other skill.
Active listening is comprised of three steps: receiving, attending, and understanding CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996). The first step, receiving is simply the act of hearing sound. There is no meaning attached to the sound at this point in the listening process. “Hearing is the reception of sound; listening is the attachment of meaning.” CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996)
Immediately following receiving, is attending, or giving the speaker proper attention. Attending can be broken down into three parts: Selectivity, Strength and Sustainment of attention. Selectivity addresses where the listener’s attention is. A plethora of distractions can exist at any time; the listener must ignore all distractions to focus on the speaker. Strength is the amount of effort the listener offers to the speaker, it is not enough only to focus on the speaker; the listener must actively try to receive the message. “Attention is not only selective; it possesses energy, or strength. Attention requires effort and desire” CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996). The last part of attending; sustainment, is the ability of the listener to provide their undivided attention over a period. Our attention fades after a certain duration. “The mind can only pay attention for as long as the body can sit still.” CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996)The final part of the active listening process is understanding; this is where the listener attaches meaning to the speaker’s words. Understanding is the most intricate of the listening processes. One roadblock to a common understanding is that one word can have different meanings. “A friend tells me he will be over in five minutes. To him, five minutes means “soon”—perhaps any time in the next half hour. I, on the other hand, attach a literal meaning: Five minutes means five minutes.” CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996). Another barrier to communication is misinterpretation of a speaker’s action. If a speaker crosses their arms, some may think that they are closed off, or uninterested. Perhaps the speaker is cold, or has a shoulder injury. Speaker’s actions can be indicative of their message, but the listener must be careful not to make assumptions.
Listening is the most underdeveloped communication skill. Immediately following a 10-minute presentation, a person will, on average recall 50 percent of the information. After two days, the listener recalls a trifling 25 percent of the presentation CITATION Dic93 l 1033 (Lee, 1993 ). One reason explaining this dilemma is that the speed of thought is faster than the speed the average person speaks.” Most of us speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute” CITATION Dic93 l 1033 (Lee, 1993 ). When listening to the average speaker, the human mind is not being used to its full potential; in fact, we use only 25 percent of our total mental capacity when listening. This leaves 75 percent of the mind to focus on something other than the listener. Attending, the second step of active listening cannot happen while the mind focuses elsewhere. Another issue plaguing our ability to listen is the absence of any formal, mainstream listening education. The other major forms of communication (writing, reading and speaking) each have their own prescribed method of teaching. Students can learn the other forms of communication as early as kindergarten. People regularly overlook listening as a communication skill, and assume that training speech will be enough to improve listening skills as well. Active listening is an important enough skill to teach on its own regard.
In the book “Listening Effectively”, John Kline provides a pathway to becoming a better active listener. Kline breaks down the process of improving the listening skill into three main components, “thinking, feeling, and doing” CITATION Joh96 l 1033 (Kline, 1996). Kline describes the “thinking” component as the domain of learning. Here the active listener comprehends the processes of listening: receiving, attending, and understanding, and realizes that all the steps must be in order. The next component, “feeling”, is how the listener feels about the speech. It is imperative to have a positive mindset before the speech begins. The listener should try to enjoy listening to the speaker. It can be obvious when a listener does not want to listen, they may fiddle with their surroundings, or check messages on their phones. This can make the speaker uneasy, and does not facilitate discussion. The final component, “do” is dependent on its predecessors. The listener should maintain eye contact with the speaker, use good posture, and avoid negative mannerisms such as tapping or fidgeting. The “do” component is easiest to accomplish after mastering the other two.
Active listening is an essential tool for leaders. It can help them connect with, and mentor subordinates. Although schools do not teach active listening, by understanding the process of listening, and where many people fall short in the process of listening, it is possible to improve. Active listening is a great resource and skill for leaders to keep in their arsenal.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Kline, J. A. (1996). Listening Effectively. Maxwell AFB: Air Force University Press.
Lee, D. (1993 ). Listening: Our Most Used Communications Skill. Retrieved from University Of Missouri: https://extension2.missouri.edu/cm150