The Listening Skill
As communications professionals hearing, listening and interpreting are crucial skills. But really understanding what someone is telling you can sometimes not be as straightforward as it might seem…
It’s been said that the difference between hearing and listening is that you hear through your ears but listen through your mind. It is surprising how often people can come away from hearing someone talk and have clearly struggled to actually pick up the real messages.
This occurred to me recently whilst watching the BBC’s Masterchef series. Each contestant presents their dishes to the judges, John Torode and Gregg Wallace who taste, ponder and then give their considered feedback. Emotions are high. The contestants’ facial features light up or fall – hanging on every word. The format then sees the contestant sitting on their own backstage where they are asked to evaluate the feedback they have just been given. And it is remarkable how often their interpretation of what they heard differs radically from what the judges actually said – and meant.
There are often barriers to listening that prevent the mind really taking on board what the ears are hearing. Emotion is a big issue. A racing heart and a flurried mind will grab at words and latch onto either the really good or the really bad, thereby skewing the overall sense. Preconceived notions are also a barrier to unbiased listening. How many times have you been in a meeting ‘listening’ to what someone is saying, and bursting inside to get your own point over? In these situations, we tend to stop understanding properly what the speaker is saying, literally not hearing points and pre-empting where their argument is going.
Writing notes while you listen can really help. In fact, seeing as well as hearing will help you listen with your mind (and your eyes!) rather than just using your ears. Indeed, this idea of seeing and reading to really take on board what someone is telling you is good to bear in mind when reading emails. I experience time and time again, responses to emails that show the person hasn’t read or understood the intended message. And to be honest, I’ve also caught myself bashing out a response to an email in haste, only to review the original note I’ve been sent and at that moment prior to clicking ‘send’ realised the true meaning of the content I’ve been sent. The nuances, the context, the timings and the sentiment can all be lost when emotions, preconceptions and haste get in the way and stop us truly listening!