Ed. note: this week celebrates Administrative Assistants and this series of articles gives some of the best advice possible for good working relationships. Without listening, it's hard for anything constructive to take place in the church office—give yourself a gift—read all three parts as they are posted, and learn to listen well.
“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said.”
This classic statement proves the point: communication is not easy.
Listening and hearing are not the same.
Americans spend at least 80 percent of their waking hours communicating—speaking, listening, texting, emailing, reading, and writing. The form your communication takes varies, of course, depending on your lifestyle, but a common rule of thumb says that on average 9 percent of our communicating is done by writing, 16 percent by reading, 30 percent by speaking, and 45 percent by listening. Factoring in email, tweets, and instant messaging, we might adjust the percentages a bit, but taking in information (listening in one form or another) still takes the lion’s share of communication time.
Verbal skills enabling you to express yourself and get your point across are vital to your ability to do your work well. But equally important for the Christian professional— perhaps even more important—are listening skills. Every day you have an opportunity to work better, serve better, minister better by listening better.
The idea of listening as an acquired skill may be unfamiliar. Many think of listening and hearing as the same. Not so. You can hear and never really listen. Hearing is entirely passive; listening is an active process.
Often the more you hear, the less you listen. You are inundated with noise and messages every day. You are aware of the sound. Though you may not even try to comprehend what is being said, though you learn to filter out much of the noise around you, you hear it. In fact, you may become so used to filtering out sounds that even when you try to listen, you cannot. Listening, unlike hearing, is a skill that requires understanding and grasping the idea. Listening gives meaning to the sounds you hear. Because few of us have been trained how to listen, most of us are rather poor at it.
But you can master the art of listening, our most neglected communication skill.
Three levels of listening
You learn to become a good listener the same way you learn to become a good speaker: discover the system and practice. Just as some speakers are better than others, some listeners are better than others. Similarly, as a speaker your performance will vary. Your performance as a listener can vary too.
Each of us listens on at least three different levels, each requiring a higher degree of concentration and sensitivity. You may use all three levels during the course of the day.
At the first level, marginal listening, little real understanding occurs because you are preoccupied with your own thoughts. You tune in and out, following the discussion just enough to get the gist of it. A speaker generally knows when the marginal listener is not paying attention.
At the second level, evaluative listening, understanding is superficial. You stay emotionally detached, and do not actively participate in the communication. You ask no questions and give no feedback. You may even fake attention while really concentrating on what you want to say when the speaker is finished.
The third and most effective level is active listening. The active listener is sensitive to the meaning behind the speaker’s words. You are totally attentive, watching for overtones and body language. You show both verbally and non-verbally that you are there for the speaker. This active listening behavior is known as “attending.” Attending is one of the biggest compliments you can give as a listener.
Little instruction in listening
When it comes to teaching communication skills, schools traditionally concentrate on reading and writing. Some instruction is directed toward verbal skills, but virtually no instruction is given in listening, the skill we actually use most in life. As a result, the average adult listens at no better than 25 percent efficiency.
One obvious difference between written and verbal messages is that if you do not understand or remember a written message, you can go back to it later. It is permanent. But, usually, what you hear is fleeting; either you get the message right, remember or note it, or it is gone. Retention is essential.
We don’t do so well, despite the fact listening as a way of taking in information is used far more often than reading. Immediately after listening to a ten-minute presentation, the average person understands and remembers only about half of what was said. After 48 hours less than 25 percent is remembered. Perhaps this is to be expected in a society that places tremendous value on speaking and seldom recognizes the value of listening. People who speak out are generally seen as assertive, capable, and in control—even if what they say is of little value. The quiet listeners, on the other hand, may be perceived as lacking in confidence. Yet, it is often the listeners who have the best grasp of situations and a greater insight into possible solutions.
Becoming an active listener involves sharpening your ability to understand, evaluate, and respond to what you hear. The single most important element in your ability to do these things is not intellect but attitude. You must realize the importance of listening, want to improve your skills, and believe that you can.
Series of the Three Articles on Be a Better Listener by Gayle Hilligoss
Click on any of the links to go to the article:
Be a better listener, part one: Mastering the Most Overlooked Communication Skill by Gayle Hilligoss