Seven ways to listen effectively

Members’ Article

Emmanuel Ngwainmbi, Ph.D.

Global Listening Centre.
Prof. : University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

For those of us/you with children, please tell me how many times you’ve asked or told your child, or heard this: “Were you listening to me?”  “You don’t listen.” “Please, listen.” “I wasn’t listening.” “They don’t listen.” “No one listens to me.”  “Who listens to someone like you”? “Who listens to something like that/this?” “If you had listened….”, “I listen only when….”


It seems we do not take time to listen to ourselves let alone others.  If we really listened well, we would not have many regrets.  Think about this-even tsunami survivors, the Sentinelese who have lived on the island for more than 60,000 years, and others inhabitants of the remotest nooks of the world do not take time to listen because external noises interrupt their thoughts.

You take time to tell others something only to hear something like this, “I heard you.” Of course, you feel like you’ve been ignored. You’re disappointed because the person only had an auditory perception of what you conveyed. He/she only heard, but did not listen to you.

So why do we spend more time hearing and less time listening? I’ll name a few—unfinished business (problems, conflicts, crises, etc.), lack of interest, and unwellness.

Wikipedia describes hearing as “the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations, changes in the pressure of the surrounding medium through time, through an organ such as the ear while listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process.”For communication to be effective we must listen. Without having the ability to listen, messages are easily misunderstood. The problems we face in listening are not different to those we face when we listen to another person, others.

Hearing is noise, listening is more than noise; it’s a skill we all have that we must develop in this era, victimized byspirits that devour our time and regularly turn us into robots —I-phones, the internet, television, social media, and other portable distractions.  The speaker knows when you’re listening. Your body helps you listen. For example, how you close you are to the speaker, making eye contact, head or hand gestures when listening all help you assess the message you’re listening to. That is active listening.

How often do we listen to ourselves or to the voices in our heads? How often do we make decisions by listening to the voices on our heads? We usually regret following the voice that caused us pain, failure, and disappointment. Often we don’t take time to acknowledge the voice that pointed us to a successful result. If we took more time to listen, we would end up making better decisions and taking productive actions.  For followers of Christ, Islam, Judaism, or any religion cultural, political affiliation or social group listening is a must.

So, how can we become active listeners? I’d like to offer some tips that are in no way finite. (1) Respect the source of the message no matter what-even a child, enemy or stranger might offer the best solution to your situation. When you respect the source you’ll listen to it. (2) Expect to learn before you listen. If you respect the source or party sharing the message or ready to do so, you’ll realize you’d listened.   (3) Avoid prejudging your source-when you size up the person who’s sending you a message (talking, calling, etc.) you fail to process the message.  Prejudgment and prejudice amount to hearing. (4) To begin listening, block out interferences by staring at a particular spot for a while.  This help you to focus on the message being transmitted.  (5) Provide feedback. Your feedback can be given verbally or nonverbally, for example, a gesture demonstrates your engagement in the communication. (6) Process the message. When you spend time assessing the message you’re essentially listening. (7) When reading a text message, move your lips or head. Your eyes, lips, head all working together can enhance listening.

So should we listen? Because listening helps us avoid mistakes; it helps us make easy decisions and have a deeper understanding of the outcomes. Listening is also important in that our views, ideas and opinions are valued, as such we’re able to have greater cooperation and collaboration. Listening is synonymous to good leadership. When leaders listen, they can understand how their peers feel and what they think—skills needed to develop interpersonal and group relations in a work environment.  Politeness is a common term usually attributed to leaders who demonstrate that they listened to their superiors and employees alike.  The term is also used to describe a ‘good person.’

Here’s a small question for you. Can you prove that you listened to the message above ?

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