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According to the International Listening Association, we only retain about half of what we hear immediately after we hear it, and only about 20% beyond that. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Despite the disappointing statistics, though, listening is one of the most important parts of successful communication. Many times, I think we get caught up in the sound of our own voices and we forget to be quiet and hear what others are saying. Imagine if we were all able to boost our ability to listen so we retained 75% of what we heard immediately after hearing it and 50% long term? The implications of this more effective listening would be phenomenal:

  • We would spend less time trying to recall what we cannot remember and become more productive
  • The quality of our work would improve because we would make less mistakes
  • We would likely get into fewer arguments
  • Our relationships would be stronger
  • We would have more empathy and compassion for others.

The Stages of Listening

Effective listening involves knowing the difference between what is said, what you hear, and what is meant. Indeed, effective listening involves these four stages which you should acquaint yourself with.

The Four Stages of Listening

  • Sensing: The sense of hearing being employed to take in the message. Our minds have the ability to listen four times faster than a person can talk. One challenge to effective listening would be focusing our minds on hearing what is said rather than the several other things going on in our lives at any given moment. To improve the skill, look directly at the person talking. As you hear the words said, also start reading the body language. Listen for tone and intonation. With advancement in the art, you will be able to notice even more subtle body language such as pupil movement. On the flip side, if you are taking part in public speaking, your audience will face the same challenge you do with the art of listening. Understanding this will be an aid to developing and improving your public speaking skills.
  • Understanding: The processing and interpreting of the message. Rather than thinking about what you are going to say next, try to think of what is being said from the standpoint of the communicator. Think of yourself as their advocate and your purpose is to help everyone understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.
  • Evaluating: Appraising the message. Tap into the filing cabinet of your little gray box on conveniently mounted on the top of your body. First sort and classify what you are hearing. What are the implications, the applications, benefit or damage of the information? You will have plenty of time to draw a conclusion. You will only have a few seconds to quickly make a fool of yourself however. So put prejudices aside. Stifle any desire to respond emotionally. For future public speaking jobs, it is vital you not only learn about your audience, you need to practise the art of listening on them. Find out what floats their boats. Find out how best to reach them.
  • Responding: Acting on the message. You will benefit little if you do not act on the direction or advice. A simple credo in this regard, there are three things a true professional does not do when being given counsel or advice. Justify, minimize or shift the blame. Reasonableness in the art of listening dictates that there is always more to learn on a subject. If your public speaking is reasonable, it will be easy for the audience to be reasonable in listening to you.

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