The Art of Listening
By “Awake!” correspondent in Canada
AS THE youngster dashed out the back door of his grandmother’s house, he was suddenly stopped in his tracks by her loud call:
“JUST A MINUTE!”
“Now, what is it that you’re going to get for me?”
“A loaf of bread, . . . and, uh . . . a pound of coffee?”
“Yes! . . . And . . .?”
“Uh . . . I forgot!”
The boy had forgotten one item because, though he had heard what it was, he had at one point stopped listening, stopped paying attention.
Grandma’s gentle reminders helped her grandson finally to recall that third item—butter. In her own humble way this grandmother was wisely teaching an age-old lesson: The need really to listen if one is to remember important matters. She knew that paying attention has much to do with getting things done well.
Hearing, under normal circumstances, comes without effort. Listening, on the other hand, must be seen as a skill that has to be cultivated and practiced. Thus, listening means “to hear with thoughtful attention.” From this point of view, listening is an art!
Value to Business
Modern industry now knows what grandmother knew. “Poor listening is one of the most significant problems facing business today,” according to the chief executive officer of the Sperry Corporation in the United States. “Business relies on its communication system,” he explained, “and when it breaks down, mistakes can be costly.”
It is said that the “listening efficiency” of people in the workplace is under 50 percent. Translated into what happens on a job, that means that each day less than half of what is orally transmitted is ever acted upon correctly.
But listening is not a one-way street in the workplace these days. More and more, management is learning to listen to the workers. Employees are more content, are better producers and are less likely to strike when they feel that the boss listens to legitimate complaints.
In some instances, workers are showing themselves to be every bit as capable of solving problems and improving productivity as their employers. At one room-air-conditioning plant, employees came up with a solution for a weld-leak problem that management had not been able to work out, “saving the company thousands of dollars annually,” says a report.
Further, about 100 North American companies are now using the principles of “quality circles,” as they are called. Originally developed in Japan, some 2,000 to 3,000 of them are now in operation in the United States. These “circles” bring management and workers together in problem-solving sessions. Some companies claim to have saved millions of dollars by utilizing suggestions of employees.
Value to You
If relationships are improved for so many by not neglecting the art of listening in the workplace, would it not also improve the situation in the average family, in the community and among nations? Yes, there is no doubt that it would. Is not the so-called generation gap actually a communication gap? Do not parents often accuse their children of not paying attention when parents speak? And do not youths today complain that their parents do not listen when they try to communicate regarding personal problems? Marriage problems are often blamed on a “lack of communication.” “You don’t listen to me!” are familiar words in many family disputes.
Do you carefully listen when your wife talks to you? Your husband? Your parents? Your children? Really? Or are you busy getting your response prepared? Does the spirit of rebuttal dominate your listening instead of a spirit of fairness to the speaker? Since you have heard his arguments before, did you ‘tune them out’ this time as well? If you did, you could have overlooked new information that might be valid and that would now justify a change of mind on your part. Many human problems could be solved just by good communication. Listening is an essential part of it.
Ways to Develop the Art of Listening
First of all, active listening is paying attention, concentrating on what is being said. But what if the one talking is a dull speaker? (Were you listening? The answer is in what was just mentioned: ‘Concentrate on what is being said.’) Though the speaker may lack some polish and even some education, listen for facts that are useful, practical and worth while. For the moment, forget the speaker’s manner or his appearance. Is what he tells you truthful and beneficial? Do not display the arrogance of one woman who told two visitors: “I don’t discuss such matters with anyone who doesn’t have at least an M.A. degree!”
Next, since you can listen four times faster than a person can talk, utilize that time to sort out and classify the information. Associate it with what you already know. Think out the results of application of the information. Don’t jump to conclusions, however. Hear the speaker out. Control prejudices so that you do not respond emotionally. “Consider the source” is not always good counsel to follow. The wise man recognizes truth no matter who speaks it. Hear enough so as to be able to draw valid conclusions later. You will have the time to do that with most speakers. Hence, it is appropriate to follow the counsel of one sage executive who said to a group at a meeting: “Now listen slowly.”
Avoid the tendency to respond with ‘instant rebuttals.’ It can be humiliating to try to reply to a matter before hearing it out, the Bible cautions. (Proverbs 18:13) After all, who knows everything? Remember that the views you now have were shaped by information you took in some time ago. You did not always have those views. Keep an open mind now. It is the sensible person who knows that there is more to learn.
Finally, prepare to act upon what you hear. Without putting into action any direction or advice given, there is little accomplished. As employees of Sperry are shown in one training program: “Effective listening . . . occurs in four stages—sensing (hearing the message), understanding (interpreting it), evaluating (appraising it), and responding (doing something about it).”
When Do You Start?
With yourself, why not start right away? Improving the art of listening is nothing more than another way of loving your neighbor as yourself. The rewards are many: A better memory for names, an improved record of remembering important appointments and commitments, an upgraded reputation for observing detail and carrying out work assignments thoroughly—to mention a few benefits.
With your children, start early to train in the art of listening. How early? “From the cradle,” say some researchers. When you realize that, as one educator said, the “years from birth to 3 are a prime time for learning,” you can see the need to start early. Reading to infants and small children trains them to listen, gets them used to words, to books, to putting thoughts together. Many parents have marveled at the ability of fresh, young minds to recall numerous and varied details with amazing accuracy and ease.
As with any art, even when one has talent, developing the skill of listening calls for training, exercise and patience. It can mean hard work. It will call for determination on your part. However, as in other fields, a well-honed art of listening can bring satisfaction to you and others and can do much to improve productive human relationships in many areas of life.
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Do you listen carefully when your wife talks to you?
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It can be humiliating to try to reply to a matter before hearing it out