“Are you listening to me?” You may have been asked this question because the speaker thinks you are nodding off or daydreaming. Many of us mistakenly think of listening as a “passive” activity. We think we just need to sit there and let words wash over us. Yet the reality is different. Effective listening demands active participation.
In our sender-oriented society, listening is often overlooked as an important part of the communication process. Yet research shows that adults spend about 45 percent of their time listening, which is more than any other communicative activity. In some contexts, we spend even more time listening than that. On average, workers spend 55 percent of their workday listening, and managers spend about 63 percent of their day listening. (Hargie)
O, the Oprah Magazine featured a cover article with the title, “How to Talk So People Really Listen: Four Ways to Make Yourself Heard.” This title leads us to expect a list of ways to leave the listening to others and insist that they do so, but the article contains a surprise ending. The final piece of advice is this: “You can’t go wrong by showing interest in what other people say and making them feel important. In other words, the better you listen, the more you’ll be listened to” (Jarvis, 2009).
The adage, “We have two ears but only one mouth” serves as an important reminder that listening is often even more important than talking. Yet many of us think that listening is the same thing as hearing and therefore put very little effort into the process. The reality is quite different.
Listening vs. Hearing
Benefits of Listening
Today, you can gain a great deal of information and entertainment through reading and electronic recordings rather than through real-time listening. If you become distracted and let your attention wander, you can go back and replay a recording. However, much of what we need to hear at work and in our personal relationships isn't recorded. There are many benefits to listening effectively and competently in real-time, including the four compelling benefits discussed below.
Listening is a primary means through which we learn new information, which can help us complete tasks effectively at home, at work or school, and get things done in general. The act of listening to our relational partners provides support, which is an important part of building and keeping relationships and helps us meet our relationship needs. Listening to what others say about us helps us develop an accurate self-concept, which can help us more put our best foot forward and communicate our identify in the best way possible. Improving our listening skills can help us be better students and more successful professionals. In addition, listening effectively can help you improve your public speaking abilities.
Clearly, effective listening has many benefits.