virgin islands scene

We are hoarding potentials so great that they are just about unimaginable.
-- Jack Schwartz


The MONTHLY Motivator - May 2003


There are two sides to any kind of communication. On one side is the sender, and on the other side is the receiver. Both sides are critical if useful communication is to take place. This month we’ll take a look at the receiving end of communication -- listening.

Being able to listen effectively is vital to your skill as a communicator. Listening is essential for learning, for understanding, for working, for creating, for developing satisfied customers, for building rapport with others.

We’re listening all the time. Effective listening is important not just in a lecture hall where the speaker is standing behind a podium, but also on the telephone, in a face to face conversation, around the dinner table, in a small meeting, at a cocktail reception, and in almost every other situation where people interact with each other.

Most people utilize only a small portion of their listening ability. Well-developed listening skills will give you the competitive advantage in a variety of situations, including personal relationships, business negotiations, education and training, participation in organizations, and many others.

Listening involves much more than just hearing. When you listen effectively, you can obtain valuable information that other people miss. You’re able to understand the hidden meanings in the words of others. In fact, with skillful listening, you can often learn more from people than they intend to tell you.

Just like any other skill, your ability to listen effectively can be developed and improved upon, by conscious effort on your part. The resulting increase in your learning, comprehension, understanding and productivity will be well worth the effort. In this edition of The Monthly Motivator, we’ll take a look at some techniques for improving your listening skills.

Actively listen

Because listening requires no physical effort, in the way that speaking does, we tend to think of it as a passive activity. And it is true that we need not take any action in order for our ears to hear sounds. Yet true listening is more than just hearing. Effective listening does indeed involve effort -- vigorous mental effort. Every sound you hear needs to be interpreted on several levels before true listening and understanding take place.

A major way to improve your listening skills is to take an active role in listening. All that’s involved is a simple change in attitude. Treat listening as something you do, rather than as something that simply occurs. Take responsibility for your own listening. Blaming others for their poor speaking habits will do little to increase your understanding of their discourse. Just by understanding the importance of effective listening, and making the effort to actively listen, you’ll significantly improve your listening ability.

Pay attention

Visualize yourself on a crowded downtown street at noon. It is a beautiful day, and hundreds of people are walking down the street, on their way to eat lunch or run errands. Horns are blaring, trucks are rumbling, and cars are whooshing by. And you’re walking down the street, talking on your cellular phone. In such a situation, do you hear all the individual footsteps of everyone walking the street? Of course not. You’ve tuned them out. You’re paying attention to the person on the other end of the phone connection. Yet the footsteps are there, and you could certainly hear them if you wanted to.

To prove this, visualize yourself in the same location, 12 hours later. It’s midnight, and the street is nearly deserted. You’ve taken a break from an all-night project at the office, and are walking a few blocks to the 24-hour coffee shop. Suddenly, someone comes out of a doorway and starts walking behind you. Do you hear the footsteps? You bet you do! And you’re probably wondering, “Am I going to get mugged? Should I run? Should I turn around and walk the other way?”

Even though there is just one set of footsteps, you hear them with perfect clarity at midnight, when you didn’t even hear the hundreds of footsteps at noon. Why is this? Because at midnight, the footsteps are much more meaningful to you.

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--Ralph Marston

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