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The positive effects of a good listener - Why we should train and focus more on our listening skills

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The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.’’ - Rachel Naomi Remen

Never in our history do we have the variety or are exposed to as many channels of communication today in the 21st Century.

Social Media is omnipresent, we can pass on information easily by choosing the ideal channel eg.  tweeting a short message on Twitter or posting videos, photos, and opinions on Facebook. We can complement our message with a picture or simply use the picture as a ‘snapshot’ to deliver the intended message. We can customize and filter our message the way we want the receiver to get it! A visual image can send a strong message and often “speaks a thousand words”. It appeals to a broad spectrum of the population - especially young children since it can be easily understood.

The variety of tools to communicate with each other allows us to stay connected for 24/7. However, we need to ask ourselves: ‘Do they really bring us any closer? Are we getting more connected through it?’

How do we verify if we understood the message? Is it alright to rely only on our visual sense? What about our other senses like sound – something we use extensively to communicate daily with the people we meet.

Talking has been replaced more and more by chatting (‘let’s have a chat’) which is more causal and broadens the term to include texting using SMS, Whatsapp or Snapchat; technology allows us to quickly exchange the information we want without getting into a dialogue. It saves time and is efficient.

Why should we be concerned if the ways of communication are changing and shifting, and why should our visual senses and current communication skills not be enough to gather and make sense of the information? Bronwyn Fryer points out ‘Is Listening an Endangered Skill?’ (Harvard Business Review, November 05, 2009).

Is there real benefit in trying to focus more again on our listening skills and what do we gain by doing so?

The classical way of communication, before the invention of the new technology, involves an oral speaker (sender) with a listener (receiver) that took place in certain situations / circumstances (e.g. in meetings, or while chatting with friends from philosophical/sophisticated circles). It was reserved for more formal occasions where you have the luxury of time. (You need to think about what the sender is saying and analyze it before you answer). It was rather time consuming. Why bother to do that today if a whole text/sentence can be replaced by a pictoral message like an emoji (the shortest form of communication)! It reminds of the time back in ancient Egypt where symbols and hieroglyphs have been used in written communication.

It seems that everyone wants to communicate and ‘blurb’ something out without bothering if they falls on ‘listening ears’. The focus is set on the sender – not on the receiver anymore.

What then is the purpose of communication if no one listens?

In communication, our listening skill is important to help verify what the other person is telling us and to try to understand the message. This constant reassuring between speaker and listener (starting and getting into a dialogue) allows us to create a consensus of understanding. While listening to someone allows and gives us the time to think and re-evaluate about what the ‘narrator’ wants to tell us.

Listening is key to all effective communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are easily misunderstood, communication breaks down and the sender of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated.

Listening is Not the Same as Hearing

While hearing is the natural ability to detect and receive sound waves – listening is the ability is to accurately interpret messages in the communication process – it is a skill that requires focus and needs to be trained!

Through your listening skills you can detect how the person you are talking to is feeling (speaking with a soft, low or angry voice etc.). It can enhance your social skills, e.g. increasing empathy towards the person you are speaking to. We try to decode more than just the context (analyzing the sentence or the facts) of what a person is trying to tell me , instead we go further in detecting also the 'inner state' of that person like his emotions, feelings etc. It is what we often refer to as the 'mood' of the conversation.

Communication is often more than only the provided facts and details we can gain through a text. Words together with sounds we can help us understand the whole context better.

Sound travels and by hearing it, it is a way to connect with the other person.

If we want to rediscover our listening skills and train them again we have to think about the different areas in our daily life where this combination of words and sound can be found. An example is music.

When listening to an aria (as a passive activity) we allow our mind and our thoughts to ‘travel’, we become more relaxed and just listening to music can have a healing effect. What a nice benefit and side effect!

Singing in a choir is an active type of communication where words and sound are combined together. It sensitizes the ear to listen not only to your own voice but forces you to gain a balance with the other voices too by listening to each other.

Start exploring areas where you can use your listening skills again – become sensitive of it and train them to see the positive and healing outcome of it.

If You Want People to Listen to You, Tell a Story

People like stories – adults do so as children with their fairytales.

The education of the ear is perhaps far more important than we can imagine, not only for the development of each individual but for the functioning of society’ - Daniel Barenboim, Music quickens time.


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