Listening is a critical skill. The strategies endorsed in this chapter can help you to be a more attentive listener in any situation.
Bommelje, Houston, and Smither (2003) studied effective listening among 125 college students and found a strong link between effective listening and school success, supporting previous research in the field linking listening skills to grade point average. This finding is unsurprising as the better you listen while in class, the better prepared you will be for your assignments and exams. It is quite simple really. When students listen, they catch the instructions, pointers, feedback, and hints they can use to make the assignment better or get a better score on the test.
Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. ~ Alice Miller
Connecting listening skills to better leadership, Hoppe (2006) lists many professional advantages of active listening, indicating that it helps us: better understand and make connections between ideas and information; change perspectives and challenge assumptions; empathize and show respect or appreciation, which can enhance our relationships; and build self-esteem. When people aren’t listening, it becomes much more difficult to get things done effectively and trust is broken while fostering resentments. Bell and Mejer (2011), identifying poor listening as a “silent killer of productivity and profit,” state change becomes extremely difficult to implement in a work environment when people are not listening.
Effective listening can also help you to make a better impression on employers. This can begin at the interview. You really want the job, but you are really nervous. As a result, you are having trouble paying attention to what the CEO of the company is saying in your final interview. She asks you if you have any questions, and you ask something you were wondering about in the elevator on the way up to this penthouse office. You’re unlikely to get the job if you ask something she’s just talked about. Even if you, somehow, convince her to hire you, you will make little progress at the firm if your supervisors often have to tell you things again, or you make decisions that cost the company in lost profits because you weren’t listening effectively in a team meeting.
Ferrari (2012) identifies listening as the “most critical business skill of all.” He notes, “listening can well be the difference between profit and loss, between success and failure, between a long career and a short one” (p. 2).
If listening is done well, the communication loop is effectively completed between speaker and receiver. The speaker shares a message with the receiver, having selected a particular method to communicate that message. The receiver aims to interpret the message and share understanding of the message with the speaker. Communication effectiveness is determined by the level of shared interpretation of the message reached through listener response and feedback. When done successfully, the loop is complete, and both sender and receiver feel connected. The active listener who employs the positive attributes detailed in this chapter is more likely to be better liked, in turn increasing her selfesteem. She is also likely to be better able to reduce tension in situations and resolve conflict (Wobser, 2004). After all, the symbols for ears, eyes, undivided attention, and heart comprise the Chinese character for “to listen” (McFerran, 2009, p. G1). Truly listening to the words of a speaker is sure to make a positive difference in your interactions whether they are academic, professional, or personal.