Listening and the 5 Steps to Effective Listening

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to the reply. When we listen with curiosity, we do not listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” — Roy T. Bennett

Listening is a common term that many may find difficult to define. What is listening to you? Schmitz (2013: 260) defines listening as the learned process of receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding to verbal and non-verbal messages. 

This definition indicates that listening is a process that involves receiving, interpreting, recalling, evaluating, and responding.

Listening is a skill that is often overlooked. Joshi (2017: 30) says that a lot of people have good hearing but not good listening skills. People play down the place of listening in everyday communication.

Interestingly, you spend more time listening than reading, writing, or speaking. Barker (2009: 3) writes that the communication time of an average person is distributed thus:


 The research shows that adults spend about 45 percent of their time listening, which is more than any other activity in the communication process. Some situations warrant you to spend more than 45% of the time listening. 

On average, workers spend 55 percent of their workday listening, and managers spend about 63 percent of their day listening (Hargie, 2001: 177). In whatever situation or circumstance, you may be involved in, listening is a principal means through which you learn new information.

Listening to what others say about you helps you to develop an accurate self-concept, which can help you more strategically communicate for identity needs to project to others your desired self. 

Overall, improving your listening skills can help you become a better student, better relational partner, and more successful professional‖ (Schmitz, 2013: 260).

Take time and think for a moment, do you listen carefully to what people tell you? It is generally believed that most human beings hear only a quarter of what is being said (Barker, 2009: 3). Listening is an essential part of communication. 

It is a skill that requires you to pay attention to discussions, developments, and prevailing circumstances to enable you to gather relevant information, ideas, and fresh perspectives on issues. When you develop effective listening skills, you build long-lasting relationships, trust, and confidence in others. 

Like any other communication skill, you can cultivate, develop and polish your listening skills with constant practice and effort.

Effective listening skill is one attribute of a team player. Members of a team group discussion, family, workplace, etc. must learn to communicate effectively. 

Listening is an essential skill for making and keeping relationships. If you are a good listener, you will notice that others are drawn to you. Friends confide in you and your friendships deepen. 

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Success comes a little easier because you hear and understand people; you know what they want and what hurts or irritates them. You get lucky breaks because people appreciate you and want you around (McKay, Davis & Fanning, 2009: 1). 

You miss important information when you do not listen well. Listening is a difficult skill that requires a great conscious effort to learn. Yates (2010: 1) writes that one of the basic building blocks of communication and one of the most difficult skills to learn and practice is effective listening.

Does being quiet while another is talking constitute listening? 

Effective listening entails the following:

  • Being calm and attentive
  • Understanding the subject of discussion
  • Learning from the discussion
  • Quiet and attentive to give help
  • Enjoying the company

The Five (5) Steps to Effective Listening

McKay, Davis & Fanning (2009: 17) outline four steps to effective listening:

1. Active Listening

Do you know that some people listen like a corpse quiet, still, and with no response? Listening is an active process that requires your involvement and participation. 

Being passive and absorbing without response leaves the communicator unsettled or unsure if the message is understood or what level of understanding is achieved. 

Active listening makes an effective collaborator in the communication process. Active listening involves three aspects: paraphrasing, clarifying, and giving feedback. 

Paraphrasing makes you active in trying to understand what is being conveyed. It means to state in your own words what you understand is being said. When you read texts, you need to paraphrase. When you listen you also need to paraphrase. This makes it necessary to understand the basics of paraphrasing.

Active listening also involves clarifying to enable you to get the picture better. It means asking questions and seeking more information to fully understand what is being said. clarifying helps you sharpen your listening focus so that you hear more than vague generalities.

Active listening thrives on feedback. When you listen and understand what is discussed, your feedback indicates your involvement, and understanding and provides the partner who talked the basis for checking your level of understanding. 

Feedback offers a forum to share your thoughts or feeling or knowledge of the subject discussed. Giving feedback speaks a lot about your listening skill. Feedback helps the speaker to assess the weight of his communication. 

It provides room for correction and helps resolve misconceptions. It‘s a chance to weave ideas together yours and the speakers. Feedback has to be ―immediate, honest, and supportive. 

2. Listening with Empathy

Listening with empathy requires you to listen with concern. You put yourselves in the shoes of the one you are listening to, remembering that you share the same struggles.

Every second of the day, you are trying to survive both physically and psychologically. Every thought, every choice, and every movement is designed to preserve your existence. Listening with empathy is paying rapt attention and accommodating the shades of the opinion of the speaker.

3. Listening with Openness

A good listener listens with openness without judging or finding faults. When you listen with bias or indifference, you are likely to be selective in what you hear, thereby filtering out essential details and misjudging every idea or thought portrayed. 

You gratify yourself by being unduly judgmental, critical, and uncomplimentary.

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4. Listening with Awareness

Listening effectively entails a balanced check of what is being said with what you already know. ―You compare what is being said with your knowledge of history, people, and the way things are. 

You listen with an honest assessment of the facts projected, and the sensibility in the message, and be ready to clarify and provide feedback to help correct any discrepancy. 

Although you should not be unduly critical or judgmental, you should not also settle for an incomplete or confusing message.

Please note that to communicate effectively as a student, career professional, husband, or wife, you need to learn some useful approaches and techniques for effective listening.

5. Misconceptions about listening

So many people wrongly believe that those who listen actively are weak. The general notion is that those who are talkative are better than quiet, calm, and silent persons. Similarly, they believe as a good speaker, you do not need to be a listener. 

Those who are talkative without listening to others become unpopular easily. Communication being a two-way process most often requires speaking and listening. The efficacy of your communication is directly proportional to your ability to listen carefully to others. 

That is why good communicators know already that good listening is the key and focuses on active listening (Ravichadran, 2019: 3).

It is a misconception that will result in miscommunication if you think listening is not a skill that should be learned, developed, and cultivated. Failures in communication usually arise when people give in to one form of misconception or the other. 

Which do you consider more important: speaking or listening? Several people think talking is more important than listening. This makes them talk more and listen less. They are mistaken. It is easier to talk than listen. To be a good speaker, you must first be a good listener. Listening is an active process that involves the mind and consumes energy.

According to Ravichandran, (2019: 4) Excellent communication requires good listening and summarises the link between the two:

Both listening and speaking are top skills for winning through job interviews and group discussions. A person with poor listening skills will not listen properly to the questions in the interview and give irrelevant answers, owing to which s/he will be rejected. 

In group discussions, marks are given for active listening. Listening is the receiving part of communication. And listening is all about receiving information through your ears and eyes! Active listeners, besides paying full attention to verbal communication, keenly observe the nonverbal cues for grasping the message completely. 

Good listening is an active, integrated communication skill that demands energy and know-how. It is purposeful, powerful, and productive. An excellent communicator is essentially a good listener. S/he modulates various verbal/nonverbal symbols which she displays depending on the feedback s/he gathers through simultaneous listening. 

Research shows that effective communication involves 50% more listening than talking. So, it is more important to realize that listening is not just paying attention to the other person‘s words but also to his tone, facial expressions, and body language.

 In a highly fast-paced technological world, sadly, people are impatient to listen to others completely. This aspect is poignantly satirized by Simon and Garfunkel in their famous ―Sounds of Silence in the following lines: And in the naked light, I saw Ten thousand people Maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening.

Have you noticed that generally, you spend much of your time hearing other people, but not necessarily listening to what is being said? A lot of people you assume are listening to what others are saying maybe daydreaming, formulating responses before hearing the whole point, and interrupting to ask questions or refute the ideas of the speaker.

As I end this segment, please note that to be an effective listener, you must remove distractions while listening to others. Do not interrupt a conversation if you agree with the viewpoint of the presenter/speaker. 

You require a calm, quiet and calculated disposition to maintain clarity of thought. It is essential also to take notes or jot down important points. Do not hesitate to ask questions at the right time to show you understand the subject and that you are genuinely involved in the discussion.

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