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Now hear this: without listening, there is no communication.

now HEAR this

'Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope." The words of Albert Camus are appropriate today as when they were first spoken. Listening is mostly an underdeveloped skill, one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself for your future success and personal well-being.

Studies tell us that 70 to 80 percent of our waking life is spent communicating on some level. Of that time, 45 percent is listening, 30 percent speaking, 16 percent reading and 9 percent writing. If almost half our time is spent listening, and, since most people listen at the 25 percent level, imagine what you are missing. The good side of the equation is the fact that listening is a skill that can be learned and improved. Like a musical instrument or sport it takes practice and dedication. Unlike music or sports, results can be experienced quickly. Even a small effort will bring remarkable results.

How do you listen? With your ears? Your eyes? Your touch? Or do you listen while planning a vacation, worrying about bills or manuevering for a new job? Do you fake attention, allow distractions, daydream or jump to conclusions and tune-out? Good listeners are the exception in spite of the fact that no other skill can serve you better. Listening is an art and its perfection demands taking responsibility for at least your 50 percent of the communication process. Like prospecting for gold, you never know when you might strike it rich.

Chester Carlson approached more than 200 companies trying to sell his idea to make copies from ordinary paper (xerography)--nobody listened. One company did listen; the rest is history. Communicating, with and without words, involves an attitude as well as the skills of questioning, speaking, observing and listening. To make your communication work, you must "think" communication. As you listen, keep the thought in mind that there is something valuable you are about to learn, a small nugget of information; knowledge or wisdom is about to be revealed. If you sense nothing is happening, start asking questions. Be an information gatherer. It's the open road to discovery.

Author Rudyard Kipling explained the skill of questioning in these words: "I have six servants. They've taught me all I know. Their names are Who, What, Where, When, Why and How." If you give your attention to these servants, you will realize they have different roles. When your interest leans toward the factual you will use Who, Where and When (close-ended questions that usually elicit one-word responses). What, Why and How (open-ended) push the door of discovery wide open. Any public relations professional or reporter will confirm the value of asking pertinent questions.

Your questions are tools of listening. Assume an attitude of the seeker, the reporter, the confidant, the gatherer--listening is a state of mind, an attitude. Why not begin to plan your communication exchanges, have a purpose and prepare? It is not unlike the salesman who plans a presentation by first posing all the questions that might be asked and preparing a response for each--a process of mental encountering. Preparation allows freedom to actively listen and permits your voice and body to express the feelings of the moment. You can respond with happiness, joy, regret, fear, enthusiasm, concern, disgust, surprise or careful understanding. To encourage the communication process, restate important facts, use anecdotes, examples, emotion. But above all, be honest and let your body support your words. Listen with thoughts of innovation, anticipation and imagination.

An exercise I use in public relations classes requires the students to choose a partner and conduct an interview. Like a reporter, with a prepared list of questions, each questions another person for about six or seven minutes. Then they reverse roles so both people have been interviewed. In this activity, they have talked to each other for about 14 minutes, a long time. The next step is the clincher. They are asked to stand and introduce the person they have just interviewed (without use of their notes). Ninety-five percent are lost; some don't even remember the other person's name. They haven't listened. The notes provided a crutch or false sense of security. This doesn't mean that you never use notes; you do. A good skill-building exercise is to try and recap in writing what you just heard. After a short time you will find your note-taking skill will support your listening. Retention will improve dramatically.

Some time ago I read a story about an airline that tried an experiment, or played a trick on its passengers. After take-off the pilot gave his name, the co-pilot's name, flight time, altitude and speed. Shortly afterwards, the flight attendant announced an inflight contest with a special prize for the person who could remember the most information from the pilot's announcement. You guessed it: Nobody remembered, because nobody was listening. Experience with familiar things often gives a sense of security and you stop listening. It happens in close relations. When you know someone well, you often tune them out because you think you know what they are going to say. However, you never know when you will miss something of vital importance. There is no excuse for not listening.

I recall standing with the chairman of the board, president and sales VP of a large corporation while receiving my 25-year gold watch, saying, "Thank you. It's about time I resign." They were so caught up in their ceremony my words went by unheard. I had to repeat, "I'm resigning." It was true and I did.

You just never know what will happen when you pay attention and listen. And when you are listening, there ae things you can do to improve the communication. Think about the following:

What emotion are you hearing?

What is the body broadcasting?

Are you looking into a vacant stare?

Looking is part of listening. Do you only hear what you want to hear and forget about the rest? Begin building on your skill by noticing things, little details. Be a detective. Let your eyes support your ears if only for the reason that you won't learn if you don't listen. Children learn their native languages simply by listening--we inhibit our listening ability by allowing distractions and by not paying attention. As you listen, involve yourself in a mental evaluation of what is happening and notice, --with your ears and your eyes.

When the giants of industry give recognition to the problem of poor listening, it might be a time to reflect on the matter. Sperry Corporation advertises, "It's about time we learned to listen." Ford says, "We listen better." 3M announces, "We hear you" while a nonprofit asks the question, "Are you listening?" Seminars and workshops abound to deal with the problem of poor listening. Do you find yourself asking people to repeat something or ask others what they heard? People don't listen.

Unless somebody listens, there is no communication. Good listening begins with the right attitude--cheerful, open, accepting. Then, put yourself in the process by "thinking" communication. Your self-training program can get into high gear by choosing one of the following activities to concentrate on for one week. Let them all become habits.

-- Listen for ideas, concepts

-- Paint a mental picture of what you hear

-- Leave judgments for later

-- Don't interrupt

-- Don't jump to conclusions leaving the conversation early

-- Concentrate, evaluate

-- Have intensity, be alert and alive

-- Motivate speakers to tell you more--you might be surprised by what you learn

-- Listen from speakers' perspectives--step in their shoes

-- Don't panic when you har a moment of silence--be patient--wait

-- Don't provide words or comlete another's sentences

-- Don't respond with a change of subjects

-- Mentally distinguish between fact, opinion and assumption--when in doubt, ask questions

As you build your skill, you'll be able to take your listener to new heights, not to mention what you'll discover for yourself.

And, one more thing. According to columnist Sidney Harris, "the art of listening needs its highest development in listening to oneself; our most important task is to develop an ear that can really hear what you're saying." Be analytical and inquisitive, "Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves." Think Communication! What you miss may be lost forever.

John R. Ward is a writer, consultant, Albuquerque, N.M.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Ward, John R.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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