Wednesday October 5, 2011
Listening skills in business
By YONG AH YONG
He that has ears, let him hear.
GOD has given all of us two ears and one mouth, so He expects us to actively communicate by listening and speaking, perhaps implying that we should listen more than speak.
When someone speaks, we listen. Some messages are unimportant, so it is okay to just listen and forget.
But in the business setting, almost everything spoken is important. So while listening to a speaker, it is helpful to take notes so as to remember the main ideas.
Some simple writing makes the material easier to recall. It also compels us to pinpoint and pay attention to the key issues.
A journalist is a good example of effective listening: she listens, and writes, at the same time.
When I see students making notes during my lecture, I am happy. When I come upon a student who just stares at the screen and blinks at me, with no notepad and pen in front of him, I will just walk close to him and say: “Are you following?” Listening, after all, is not as passive a language skill as we used to think. Good listeners are active learners, thinkers and analysts.
I am reminded of another Scripture verse: “Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember?”
Active listening involves a number of physical as well as mental activities.
Hearing is the reception of sounds. You hear drumbeats, firecrackers and vehicles passing by, but you don’t listen to such sounds or noise.
To listen, you must concentrate on the speaker and understand what he is trying to tell you.
Of course, hearing may imply listening at times. When your boss asks, “Do you hear me?”, he is actually saying, “Are you listening to me? You don’t seem to be.”
It is important to know the code of the speaker, that is, his language. If someone speaks in Japanese and you know no Japanese, there is no listening; there is only hearing, which makes no sense.
If the speech is in English, you must have a sufficient command of the language, and a good vocabulary, to understand it. And you should ask appropriate questions if you are unclear about a certain point. Then only you will know what is happening.
Remembering is essential if you intend to put what the speaker proposes into practice.
Common techniques for retaining and recalling information are taking notes, and tape-recording or video-recording the speech.
Some speakers prepare and distribute their texts, but most of them don’t.
The best way to remember, in my experience, is to focus on the speech, make notes and ask for clarification after the talk, if necessary.
You need to take into account the total communication context so that you are better able to understand the speaker’s point of view. His body language, inclusive of his facial expressions, body posture, eye contact, momentary silence and vocal cues, all allow you to obtain some in-depth information from the person behind the voice.
As a listener you are inevitably influenced by your past experiences, attitudes, value system and predispositions.
Understanding the principles of logic and reasoning, and recognising bias, stereotyping, propaganda and other factors that may affect the conclusions you draw, are also essential.
Effective listeners deliberately suppress their own opinions until they have first understood the speaker’s ideas. This is the prerequisite to making a fair and proper evaluation.
Effective listeners analyse the communication situation and purpose, and then decide their own stand before making the next move.
While the stimulus provided by the speaker is the same, responses from the audience can differ.
Listen to the speech signals
A speaker often uses signal words to indicate where he is or where the listeners are.
The common signal words are given in the table above.
■ Yong Ah Yong is a lecturer at UTAR (Perak).