Hearing is not Listening

By Michel-Ange Koffi-Koumi. Michel-Ange is an MBA student at the University of Central Arkansas, USA. Please read his entry and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Effective communication is one of the skills people strive most to achieve. An individual who has the ability to communicate properly becomes a valuable asset. Not only does it allow others to easily understand your communication, it also creates an emotional relationship with your audience. Yes, it is true…people love communication masters. However, most people define communication as the exchange of words and/or signs in order to convey a message.  This definition is not wrong at all, but rather incomplete. There is one dimension of communication that is often overlooked: listening.

It’s human nature to develop emotions and usually act based on the emotions we feel. Therefore, attitudes such as arguing when we disagree, automatically judging what we see or hear, proving that we are right and others are wrong, and more, become a habit. Stephen R. Covey said it well: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Unfortunately, this statement is the truth. We have all been implicated in a communication conflict at least one, either at work, with friends or at home. I suggest that each person who is currently reading this article take a look back and think about the reasons why you had this miscommunication fight. 90% of the time we will point the finger at other people, but we have to remember that when we do point a finger at others, 3 of our own fingers point right at ourselves. It may be true that in your case they were wrong, but what did you do to prevent/solve this situation? Did you just hear what they said, or did you listen?

Below are various examples in different areas of life that will hopefully help us see things in perspective and make us better listeners.

Business. Successful leaders and entrepreneurs know that effective communication is the key to success. Why? Because they listen first to the need of their audience, then use their understanding to reply to people’s demand. A good corporate leader who listens is more efficient at retaining his best employees and developing the non-performing ones because they feel like he cares about them. An entrepreneur who launches a great product that nobody needs will fail no matter how good the product is. But the one who listened to people’s complaints and created the product that will solve the issue will experience long-term growth. As a result of listening, businesses can increase customer service, strategic plans, customer and employee retention, etc., and financial performance and sustainability.

Family/Friendship. How many times we had conflicts with people in our environment? Let’s say your friends and you want to plan a trip. You start arguing about possible destinations and instead of listening to what others are saying, you just hear their points and reply that your destination is better. How many couples fight about issues without solving them? Each one wants to prove the other is wrong. Even relationships between kids and parents suffer from a lack of listening. Some children try to express their non-interest in a field of study that their parents want them to pursue but the parents are quick to reply that the child is lazy for example. Not listening leads to communication break-downs which can even affect the mental health.

School. I’ve experienced so many situations when a student speaks in class and others are laughing, even the professor. Nobody listens to what they are really saying because we are so quick to react to what we hear. When we take time to reflect and understand the thinking behind the words, we often find that it wasn’t that bad.

Religion. There is one story about an actress I wanted to share. She wanted success and all her prayers were about that. This reminds of the fact that when we pray we spend all our time asking God for we want. We rarely ask Him what He wants us to do. So, one day the actress asked God what He wants. He told her to stop acting for a while and focus on getting close to Him. And she listened. How many of us would have listened? Her faith helped her to listen and trust the process. She got back into the movie industry years later and today she is one of the biggest stars. I am not saying this is the case for you, but there is a lesson to learn in this example.

When we allow our emotions to dominate our mind, we listen with the intent to reply. In other words, we hear the words that others pronounce, and we can’t wait to reply. Listening is very different. Of course, listening starts with hearing but there is some much more else. Professor Judi Brownell from Cornell University developed an amazing concept to summarize the idea of effective listening called HURIER. HURIER stands for Hearing (which refers to the physical act of hearing, but also to picking up on non-verbal and other signals; tone of voice, body language and facial expressions); Understanding (this means tying together all the element of ‘hearing’ to create a coherent understanding of what was communicated); Remembering (remembering requires focus as an effective listener needs to be able to remember the message they are receiving in its entirety); Interpreting (means considering factors such as the context in which the message was sent and avoid any preconceptions or biases that they may hold that may affect how the message is interpreted); Evaluating (the listener keeps an open mind on the messages they are receiving and doesn’t jump to conclusions about what is being said); and Responding (your response should be well-measured and demonstrate that you have understood what was communicated).

To conclude, I would say that life is a constant challenge. I strongly recommend that everyone reflect on how we can each become better listeners not only for our own goals and interests, but also for a better world. Even though this article doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of examples and suggestions, I hope it’s a good start to motivate us to change the world by changing ourselves.

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