In today's competitive workforce, employers are looking for a new breed of professionals. Ideal candidates need more than the required technical skills for the job. Soft skills are the new power skills in demand by employers across industries. Emotional intelligence, effective communication, the ability to manage conflict, and the desire to be self-reflective, are just a few types of soft skills necessary for creating and maintaining productive professional relationships. Kettering University Online recognizes the importance of highlighting soft skills for professionals in all industries. As such, MicroSkills: Soft Skills for Today's Workforce is a new collection of blogs focusing on the skills professionals can incorporate into their daily best practices. Today's blog is about improving your listening skills.
It is one of life’s many paradoxes that in order to communicate effectively one must listen more than speak. Many people confuse listening with hearing. The difference between hearing and listening is hearing is the physiological process of sound waves bouncing off eardrums; the simple act of perceiving sound through the ears, while listening involves a conscious effort to understand and make meaning out of what a speaker is saying. Unlike the ability to hear, which comes naturally for most, the ability to listen - to actively listen - is a skill that must be continually developed because people do not talk their way into good personal and professional relationships; they listen to their way into them!
Although it is important for all people to make efforts to listen effectively, it is especially incumbent upon leaders to do so. When leaders actively listen to employees, the employees are more likely to feel respected, valued, and that they are an important part of the organization. In addition to boosting morale and facilitating workers’ sense of engagement, active listening builds trust. When employees feel trusted, they are better- positioned to be more motivated, creative, productive, and loyal. All of which add to a healthy company environment. Before sharing some basic tips about ways to improve your listening skills, it is important to understand the concept of noise and the causes of poor listening.
Types of Noise
The word noise tends to conjure thoughts of audible sound, however; anything that interferes with the successful transmission of a message can be considered noise. Communication scholars identify at least three types of noise: physiological, environmental, and psychological.
1. Physiological noise is considered to be anything going on inside the physical body that distracts someone from listening to the best of their ability. If one is sick, tired, hungry, or in pain, chances are they will not be able to listen effectively.
2. Environmental noise can be an audible noise that is distracting or something else in the environment. Imagine a student sitting in a classroom while kids play loudly outside. It is likely that the noise is interfering with the student’s ability to concentrate on the teacher’s lecture. Environmental noise can also be the temperature in the room or the physical conditions available. It is difficult to listen if one is too cold or too warm, or if the chair is uncomfortable or the desk wobbly.
3. Psychological noise is the combination of all the thoughts, ideas, worries, and anxieties competing with the speaker for one’s attention. Imagine someone arriving at a meeting after having an upsetting argument with a spouse. It is likely that he or she will not be in the best frame of mind to listen effectively to the day’s presentations.
Understanding the various types of noise explains why, even though you may feel as though your message is well-crafted and on point, it is not heard.
Causes of Poor Listening
Stephen Lucas (2020), in his book, The Art of Public Speaking, explains the four causes of poor listening:
1. Not concentrating by letting your thoughts wander.
2. Listening too hard – sometimes when people listen too hard, they are trying to write down or remember every word said. This is a difficult task and is likely to lead to less overall retention. It is more productive to listen for themes, ideas, or key points. An analogous example is the student who writes down every word during the professor’s lecture. If the student is too busy trying to catch every word, he or she might miss both the larger themes and major points of the lecture.
3. Jumping to conclusions – instead of actively listening, many people jump to conclusions. Often, people base what they are about to say on a conclusion they just made, rather than what the other person actually said. Being patient and listening, instead of jumping to conclusions and then reacting to them, is likely to make for a more effective listener and a stronger leader.
4. Focusing on delivery and personal appearance – If one is focused on counting how many times a speaker says “um” or is thinking about where she may have purchased, what the listener thinks is an ugly sweater, then very little effective listening is being accomplished. Effective listeners have the ability to bring themselves back to the present moment as soon as they realize they have been distracted. Meaning, they can reorient themselves to what the speaker is saying instead of following their distracted train of thought to its conclusion.
7 Tips for Effective Listening
Once you realize that listening well is a skill, and have an understanding of some of the barriers to listening well, follow Lucas’ (2020) tips for effective listening:
1. Take listening seriously and invest the time needed to improve your skills.
2. Be an active listener – make direct eye contact, ask questions (but do not interrupt), paraphrase, and use nonverbal to indicate that you are paying attention to and understanding the speaker.
3. Resist distractions and re-focus on what the speaker is saying, not how he or she looks.
4. Do not be diverted by appearance or delivery – try to focus on the message.
5. Suspend judgement until you hear the entire message.
6. Focus your listening.
7. Develop note-taking skills.
In summary, understanding different types of noise, realizing the causes of poor listening, and embracing the tips offered for effective listening, is a great first start to becoming an exceptional leader. The leaders that are most effective, most productive, and continue to have successful relationships with their employees, are without a doubt, skilled in the art of listening.
Corporate Training Available
Kettering Global recognizes the challenges employers face in attracting, developing, and retaining high-quality talent while staying competitive in an ever-shifting corporate landscape. As such, Kettering Global is now positioned to partner with companies to meet these challenges through developing tailored training and programs with the same quality content as their award-winning STEM courses. As your company prepares training and development opportunities for 2020 and beyond, consider the need for a comprehensive effective business communication skills training. Invite Kettering Global’s team of qualified, award-winning, training experts to design a program that will recharge and refocus your employees’ ability to communicate clearly, speak assertively, and navigate conflict productively. Communication training can lead to increased motivation, morale, and the ability to meet your company’s strategic goals.
Lucas, S.E. (2020). The art of public speaking. McGraw Hill.