The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4, "Effective Listening and Observation" in the new book "Embrace Happiness: The Art of Conflict Management."
Communications is both verbal and non-verbal. Some information is spoken or written; other is conveyed non-verbally. For effective communication, we have to pay supreme attention to both parts. The information sent and received through a common human communication process can be identified and grouped in three distinctive categories: vocal information, visual information, and tactile information.
For vocal information, we need our ears, and for visual and tactile information, we are dependent on our eyes and sense of touch. We will discuss the vocal information under "Listening" and the visual and tactile information under "Observation." With a little bit of tolerance, we will include tactile information with visual.
There is a world of difference between hearing and listening. Hearing depends on the working condition of your ears. It means that you have the ability to sense the sound waves coming into your ears. As soon as your eardrum vibrates, and your brain receives the signals, hearing has occurred; your ears works perfectly, and your nerves transmit the information flawlessly.
On the other hand, when these vibrations and signals result in more brain activity in parts of the brain that are related to comprehension, reasoning, and thinking, we are truly listening. Hearing involves receiving the waves, but listening entails understanding them. Listening is a deliberate act of hearing and comprehending.
When we hear, it is just our ears that are working. They absorb sound waves, the eardrums vibrate, and all the middle and inner parts of the ears dutifully do their jobs as required; the nerves also deliver the messages continuously to where they should be sent. All the hard work is to no avail, because in your head, you are dealing with your own problems. Who cares about this miserable creature sitting in front of me, babbling like an idiot? I might think, while my friend thinks he has found a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.
“Hearing involves receiving the waves, but listening entails understanding them. Listening is a deliberate act of hearing and comprehending.”
The sensing part (hearing) should result in some level of thinking in order for listening to happen. For listening, we have to hear the words and try to understand them. The more you understand, the more effective the listening process has been. Therefore, for a listening process to be effective, we must concentrate and pay complete attention to all the words that are being said.
It is not enough to just hear the words; we have to understand them. We have to think about them and comprehend the true meaning (or meanings) behind them. The words should be analyzed in detail, and the context and the situation should be taken under consideration to discover the meanings of the words.
Moreover, it is not enough to understand the words; it is essential to fully understand what we are hearing. A considerable effort should be made not to miss any single word. People who are talking, consciously or unconsciously, select specific combinations of words to voice their opinions and thoughts. Every single one of them is crucial. It is inconsequential whether you think they are annoying, long-winded, and loquacious; you need to capture every single word.
I had a friend, Gabby, in high school who could be amazingly annoying if he put his mind into it. Whenever he called, I knew that I would be on the phone for the rest of the day, unless an earthquake or a volcanic eruption interrupted him. One day, I was with another friend of mine grumbling about how garrulous our mutual friend is. I said I did not know what to do when he called.
Just then, the phone rang, and the caller ID showed that Gabby was on the line.
"Watch and learn!" my friend said. He picked up the phone and talked to Gabby
for a while, and then he put the receiver on the table, came over to me, and continued our previous conversation.
Every 10 minutes or so, he picked up the receiver, said, "Aha," and then put down the receiver again on the table.
I was shocked by this brutal act; surely it was not ethical, was it?
But it was bloody marvelous.
Furthermore, it is not enough to fully understand the words we are hearing, we have to make sure to fully understand what is being said, because that may be heard differently due to numerous noises in the communication process.
“Effective listening requires conscious efforts to fully understand what is being said.”
We have to make sure that what we are hearing is exactly the same as what has been said. It is essential to find effective mechanisms to reduce the effects of noises and ensure the accuracy of what we hear.
Listening requires understanding what you are hearing. Effective listening requires conscious efforts to fully understand what is being said.
From the time the words are shaping inside the speaker’s mouth, there are many noises affecting the message that is going to reach your ear (refer to section 4.1.1, The Communication Process). A word may be chosen incorrectly to represent a specific meaning or a thought; the chosen word may be pronounced differently; the voiced word may be distorted in the air before reaching our ears. Our ears may not be able to hear the word exactly, and our brain may convert the heard word to a meaning completely different from the intended one.
Therefore, it requires a considerable amount of effort and energy to make sure you have eliminated every possible noise in the way, and sometimes, it is not within your power to correct an error in the whole process.
The mindset (the conversion table) inside the speaker’s head is not yours to meddle with; you can hardly do anything about their speech, intonations, accent, and the like.
Author Ali Soleymaniha has been researching and practicing in the field of conflict management for more than a decade. With a desire to guide others seeking happiness in their relationships, Soleymaniha was inspired to pen his new book, "Embrace Happiness: The Art of Conflict Management." For more information, visit www.embrace-happiness.com.