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Effective Listening Strategies

Listening facilitates correct understanding of problems faced by the members of the organization. Listening helps one obtain adequate data to solve problems. Listening motivates the speaker or the complaining employee or the deliberating subordinate. Listening improves or lifts up the image of the listener, especially the manager. Listening makes one a leader, an efficient mediator and a deft trouble-shooter. Now what we have to master is the listening, since there are a lot of good things supporting good listening. We will discuss here the strategies, skills and best practices to reach the best stage of listening. Such strategies also constitute determinants of good listening.

Anecdote: Practice this for best results

What is said is not always received exactly in the same meaning. This error is universal and happens every time. There are many reasons underlying this most commonplace error. They include individual perceptions, inadequate language, preconceived notions etc. Communication always goes wrong. Communication is one area of management, which is of all, the most susceptible to the errors.

To arrest a particular epidemic, drinking of boiled and cooled water was widely publicized. The government funded the publicity. But when checked for its correct practice among the public, everybody was drinking the boiled and cooled water as advised but in little sips with spoons. What was advised was drinking of adequate water of a few tumblers but not spoonfuls. The publicity assumed that the quantity of each drink was understandable to all as a few glasses. But the public did not understand so.

Check with the listener as to what he has understood from the message and ask him to express it in his own words, which we usually refer to as paraphrasing. If he expresses it so, the errors in understanding would reveal out to the most extent. In certain cases, an inspection over compliance in action is best advised.

It is 100% definite that the first paraphrasing itself reveals a few errors. If you have not asked for paraphrasing, the errors would continue to exist and take their toll in compliance. Hence, the speaker has to correct them. After correcting as such, the speaker has to ask for second paraphrasing. A few more errors would reveal in the second paraphrasing also. Correct them.

Usually it is not uncomfortable for superior to ask a subordinate to paraphrase once or any number of times. But, a subordinate who is speaking generally feels it delicate to request a superior to paraphrase. In such cases, it is advisable for the subordinate to repeat the statement twice and thrice and request the superior to ask questions for clarification. Soliciting questions is best approach to correct the errors in listening and understanding.

The success of the speaker depends very much on the listener in that the speaker gives his best when he is encouraged to speak. Hence there are many sermons for the listener who has to diligent not only at the level of his absorption of delivered message but also at the level of allowing the speaker to deliver his best. To put it differently, the listener only has to facilitate the delivery also.

In one popular website, meade.tripod ([http://lynn_meade.tripod.com/id26.htm]), the learned writer enumerated a list of positive learning responses, which would help not only the absorption of delivered message but also delivery of the speaker itself.

1) Don’t judge too early. Suspend it for some time.

2) Paraphrase or restate the speaker’s idea in (listener’s) own words. For example, a) what you wanted to convey is …b) you are upset with what…

3) Speak encouraging words like, Yes, Yeah, Really, Go on, I see, That is interesting, Please carry on etc.

4) Ask clarificatory questions, like 1) when do want to set about correcting 2) When did you notice this 3) How do feel now? 4) What are the reasons to feel this way?

5) Express your support with statements like, 1) I think you have a given a lot of thought about this 2) I like this kind thought process.

The best benefit of listening depends very much on how the listener gets ready and behaves while listening. In the website, http://www.byu.edu/stlife/cdc/learning/html/listen.html, the author while explaining the keys to good listening proposes TQLR process for effective listening. TQLR is an acronym for Tune in, Question, Listen and Review.

Initially to tune in (T) to the speaker, the listener has to understand the topic and recall all what he know of the topic. This mental process acts as a foundation for the message to rest on. Secondly, the listener has to ask himself questions (Q) like, ‘what is the specific point the speaker is making here?’ ‘what supporting facts is he giving to support his point?’, ‘what is the central idea and structure of his presentation?’. If the listeners asks and answers such questions within him, the understanding of the message and committing it to memory becomes easy. Thirdly, listen (L) with active alertness. In this, you have to ‘anticipate what will be said and take in what is said’. The objective of listening is to take in the key message and answers to key questions. The last important part of the effective listening process is to review(R). Reviewing is rechecking of the message received against what is anticipated, and evaluating the main points for their benefits and meaning. The ideas are summarized. This evaluation or review will give rise to some more questions, which may prompt the listener to tune into the presentation for further understanding of the topic.

Prof.Asha Kaul (2004, pp.45-46) has identified three essentials for good listening. They are 1) positive attitude 2) concentration 3) interaction by question-answer sequence. (Positive attitude towards the speaker or the situation keeps the listener’s mind open and thus the message gets imbibed. Secondly, careful listening with concentration and

evaluating of the speaker’s point of view helps one get the best of the listening. Thirdly, interaction with the speaker by posing honest questions on un-clarified issues would promote effectiveness of listening.

Lesikar and Flately (2002,pp.407-408) have proposed Ten Commandments of listening. We reproduce them here and their essential meaning.

1.Listener should stop talking. Talking distracts both speaker and more so the listener.

2.Put the speaker at ease.

3.Show the speaker that you are interested in listening to him. Then only, the speaker gives his best.

4.Remove distractions. Listener’s idle behaviors like shuffling papers, scribbling etc. would distract both.

5.Place yourself in speaker’s shoes to look at things from his viewpoint.

6.Be patient and let the speaker take his own time to make his point without hurrying.

7.Control your temper at any provocation from the speaker.

8. Go easy on criticism and argument.

9. Pose honest questions.

10. The first commandment, stop talking, is repeated as tenth commandment since it is very important.

We would propose here a fairly comprehensive framework of listening strategies by synthesizing all the words of wisdom about effective listening.

Positive Attitude

The listener should look for positive things and ignore negative things. A person who sets about for positive things would definitely encounter positive points and the converse is true of negative attitude. Negative attitude closes the mind and misses the best points. Positive attitude is springboard for subsequent successes in the listening process.

Remove internal and external distractions

An unprepared mind or preoccupied listener is a distraction for himself. The distractions created by the listener himself are internal distractions. Failing to give thought to the topic and being busy with something else is a self-created internal distraction. Knowingly or unknowingly, the listener himself either tolerates the distractions or encourages them. For example, if the listener does not close his mobile phone, it would distract him, which he himself permitted. Similarly, encouraging the co-listeners to discuss points or pose questions while listening is a self-created distraction.

External distractions include bad public address system, disturbing public program in the close neighborhood etc. The listener, ( if he is at the helm ) or the organization taking care of the talk should ensure a calm setting for the presentation.

Attentive Posture

The listener’s forward bending posture, his encouraging small questions, agreeing with the speaker on key points, clapping frequently for good points etc encourage the speaker to give his best.

Listener should not interrupt the speaker for no good reason. The listener should not question just for the sake of questioning. Besides this, frequent questioning disrupts the process of both the speaker and the listener.

One should be actively involved in taking the message. Active involvement drives monotony away. Yawing which often results out of monotony discourages the speaker. The speaker should be properly and carefully involved so as to obviate monotony and frequent yawns.

Interaction by way of questioning and paraphrasing

There may be missing links between the presentation and what the listener has to understand, which float on the surface of listener’s mind as questions. The listener has to pose those queries and get them answered, but in that process he should not interrupt the presentation with dishonest questions or too frequent trivial questions.

Right questioning not only helps the speaker establish the logic but also helps the listener avoid boredom and understand the message.

In the interaction, if the listener briefly paraphrases or restates what the speaker said, the listening goes far towards achieving its purpose.

Active involvement

The listener should be actively involved in the message. All the above strategies contribute to this. The attention should be undivided. Active involvement demands attentive, evaluative, critical, sensitive listening.

Look for meaning, which lies buried somewhere beyond words. Meaning may be deep beneath the words, or in eyes, or in intonation and other non-verbal cues. Meaning gets born of the combination of both verbal and non-verbal message, whose understanding is possible with active involvement only.

Active involvement demands high concentration. For this, the listener has to stop talking both within and without.

The listener has to sincerely desire to understand the speaker and think from his angle. A person, who tries to understand others first is understood by others well.

Taking Notes

The best method to being on the track of the presentation is taking notes on key ideas, supporting facts and major sub-topics. Note taking keeps one within the structure of the presentation. Besides this, the listener who is taking notes is an encouraging scene for the speaker to give his best.

Reference List

Kaul, Asha (2004). Business Communication, Tenth Print, New Delhi:Prentice Hall of India.

Lesikar V.R. and Flately E. ( 2002) Basic Business Communication: Skills for Empowering the Internet Generation, New Delhi:Tata McGraw Hill Publishing Company Limited.

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