There is a reason why they say “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak” (Latin proverb). Communication is a two-way process where there is an exchange of ideas, feelings and experiences. It is the transmission of messages, influencing the interlocutor or oneself, where the content of communication and its effects in achieving goals is important (Leinert Novosel, 2012).
There are moments when we are hearing more than listening or making assumptions about things that have not been said. In such situations, our attention was not focused on what was going on. Listening involves direct attention and remembering what we have heard. In a two-way communication, listening is not always enough to make the sender (the person speaking) heard. Active listening is more than being fully present to the spoken words. It includes mirroring the experience of the speaker, making sure to correctly understand and interpret what the interlocutor is expressing, and paying attention to what the body is communicating. By actively listening, the listener shows that they accept the feelings of the sender and the speaker is invited to further explore their feelings and thoughts. Active listening encourages the person speaking to solve their problems (Brnad, 2006).
Levels of Listening
When it comes to listening, there are three general levels of listening. They are characterised by different behaviour of the listener. This behaviour greatly affects the quality of the listening. Depending on who or what is being listened to, the levels often change during the day, along with the way, and the quality and efficiency of communication.
First level: Careful listening
At this level, the listener lets the narrator guide and tries to see things from the point of view of the exhibitor. Behaviour that characterises this level: presence and attention of the listener, recognition and response, the listener does not allow something to distract, carefully monitors all communication including body language and metalanguage, tries to stay open and understand the thoughts and feelings of the speaker, tries to restrain their own thoughts and feelings in order to devote themself to listening.
Second level: Listening to spoken words (without attentive listening)
People who listen at the second level stop at a superficial listening to the spoken words without listening to the deeper meaning of the word and without listening between the lines. They listen to what the speaker is saying but do not strain to grasp the essence behind those words. People who listen this way tend to listen logically, pay attention to the content of what is said and do not take into account the emotions and feelings behind the spoken words. They always remain emotionally detached from communication. Such listening can lead to a dangerous level of misunderstanding because all concentration of listening is limited to the content of what is being said. Unlike the third level, where it is clear to everyone that the one who should, is not listening, the second level is dangerous because it can cause serious misunderstanding because the speaker leaves in the belief that they have been heard and understood, which is not the case.
Third level: Fragmented listening
This level is characterised by a listener who occasionally concentrates and synthesises with the speaker and then completely distances themself and stops listening (becomes immersed in personal thinking or busy with some other job). This often happens in meetings when individuals follow only those fragments they need for a particular discussion. This form of listening is characterised by passive listening in silence, without a reaction to what is said. There are also frequent moments when the listener simulates listening, when in fact the listener is preoccupied with completely different content such as judgment, forming advice and condemnation, or mentally and psychologically preparing for what they will say later. Physically, such listening is manifested in a blank view and a greater interest of the listener in their own presentation than in listening to the listener.
Characteristics of active listening
Many authors, experts, and psychologists suggest a few steps, rules, and tips to become a better listener. The first rule of listening is to talk as little as possible, i.e. giving the interlocutor a chance to say what they think and want without interrupting them and without imposing one’s own opinion (Ranogajec, 2007). Nelson-Jones (2004) in his book ”Practical Counseling and Helping Skills“ suggests several active listening skills including: taking an attitude of respect and acceptance, paraphrasing, reflecting on feelings, showing an understanding of context and diversity, avoiding barriers to listening and the skill of summarising. Carnegie (2014) states that an active listener not only closely follows what the other person is saying, but also asks questions, comments, and responds to what is being said – both verbally and nonverbally. Carnegie also emphasises that an active listener is really active only when the listener doesn’t look the interlocutor only in the eyes, but follows the speech of his or her whole body. But, also, the listener must support the interlocutor with their facial expression or body movement.
How to Improve Verbal Communication?
With a little effort, the following five steps will help you make each of your conversations more successful, and will assist your interlocutor to feel comfortable in your presence:
1 – Carefully Listen to Your Interlocutor
While talking to others, the following things often happen to us:
- We interrupt others as they talk because we want to tell them something before we forget it;
- We interrupt them because we want to add something to something they just said;
- We simply let them speak out of politeness, only to finally express our view of things, but we didn’t really listen to them.
These are habits that need to be eradicated today. How? When you enter into communication with a person, simply make the decision to listen to them carefully and without condemnation, and without any intention of interrupting them. Feel free to lean towards that person, nod your head, and say words like “mhm”, “yes”, and “I understand” to show that you are actively listening.
Here’s a great metaphor that can help you do this: imagine that your eyes are lamps, and you want to give your interlocutor an even tan. Only by nodding your head up and down will you be able to give the other person an even complexion. This is what creates a sense of trust between you and the other person, which is important for success in communication.
2 – Use Pauses in Conversation
From an early age we were taught that silence in conversation is uncomfortable and that we should avoid it. That is why in conversation it often happens that we want to break the silence so we start talking just to say something, and often we start talking nonsense.
When you take a few seconds and pause before you say something to your interlocutor, you have done three good things:
- You really took into account all the information you were told, which means that you respect the other person’s opinion, and that you respect that person;
- You have allowed yourself to hear your interlocutor on a deeper, more thoughtful level;
- You have reduced the risk of interrupting your interlocutor if they were not done and there was more to add.
3 – Ask Questions for Clarification
When talking to others, never assume that you have correctly heard the information given to you by your interlocutor, or that you have drawn the correct conclusion yourself! It is a stone that only amateurs stumble upon. So feel free to ask as many questions as you can – because the person that asks questions has control over the conversation. The question you can always ask is “What do you mean?”. This will always encourage your interlocutor to give you more information.
4 – Paraphrase
If you paraphrase what your interlocutor has told you, it will be a sign to that person that you are actively listening. You can do this with phrases such as “If I understood you well…”, “You said that…” etc. Paraphrasing will result in one of the following two possible outcomes:
- You have understood the interlocutor correctly, and by paraphrasing it you will confirm it, which will make the interlocutor happy, and the trust between you will increase;
- You did not understand the interlocutor, you will paraphrase what you heard, and the person will correct you and give you accurate information.
5 – Use Open-Ended Questions
With open-ended questions, you will not only show your interlocutor that you are actively listening, but you will also receive information that the person maybe did not intend to tell you. Open questions are those that start with “Who…”, “What…”, “When…”, “How…”, “Which…”, “Why…”, “How come”, etc. Be sure to use them in your next communication – you will be surprised at what information you will get!
Why is active listening useful?
Just as active listening requires a person to become skilled in verbal and nonverbal communication, develop self-esteem, learn to empathise with others, it is also necessary to learn to actively listen. Only then can it constructively resolve conflicts or certain problems. Thus, constructive conflict resolution arises as a consequence of the development of these social skills, especially active listening.
- By actively listening, you will give the interlocutor a chance to convey their message in the best way, and equally important, you send your message only after you have understood what the interlocutor wants to tell you. By concentrating on what is, and not how it is said, you will establish direct and adequate communication.
- By actively listening, you will receive useful information, avoid misunderstandings and conflicts, show that you care about your interlocutor, help people you communicate with to see the problem more clearly and, finally, build a relationship of trust.
- Developed listening skills allow the other person to feel comfortable, have confidence in the listener and easily express what they want to say.
Research and surveys conducted, have shown that there is dissatisfaction with people’s feelings of misunderstanding because, in their opinion, no one listens to them well or enough or they do not know how to listen. Namely, it is believed that people who know how to listen properly create a sense of satisfaction and self-esteem, while increasing the number of positive and good relationships with the environment, which is visible in the positive reactions of people with whom they communicate, work, and live. (Vodopija & Vajs, 2010)
The goal of active listening, according to Rogers and Farson (1957) is to bring about change in people. To achieve this goal, certain techniques need to be applied about what to do and what to avoid. These techniques are based on the understanding that a person creates a certain image of him or herself during their life, which is not necessarily realistic, but a person in communication with others wants to keep and confirm it at all costs. If the other person in communication refutes this constructed image in any way, the speaker will become defensive, which easily creates conflicts, misunderstanding, and poor communication.
Farson and Rogers advocate the view that the interlocutor who listens should recognise the self-created image of the individual speaking to him or her, and then by his or her communication, which is often in the form of sub-questions, allow the interlocutor to explore their own image. The interlocutor when in a position where he or she does not have to defend him or herself, gets the opportunity to explore the image of oneself, to see what and who he or she really is, and to make his or her own decision about how realistic it is. Only then are they in a position to change. For such communication, a climate of equality and freedom, relaxation and understanding, acceptance, and warmth needs to be created. Any different approach; evaluative, moralising, which condemns or, on the contrary, over-praises the interlocutor, is wrong because it causes fear. Fear is the greatest enemy of communication.
Communication is the key in all types of relationships. Tantra emphasizes and actively boosts this soft skill in order to create a stronger bond with yourself and the others. Try our Tantra Method training which features daily practices you can implement into your life right away.
Carnegie, D. (2014). Kako steći komunikacijske vještine. Zagreb: V.B.Z
Brdar, I. (2006). Psihologija komuniciranja. Rijeka, Filozofski fakultet.
Leinert Novosel, S. (2012). Komunikacijski kompas. Zagreb: Plejada.
Nelson-Jones, R. (2004). Practical Counselling and Helping Skills (4th Edn). London: Sage.
Petz, B. (1992.): Psihologijski rječnik, Zagreb, Prosvjeta.
Ranogajec, B. (2007). Slušati sugovornika dvostruko više nego govoriti. Poslovni dnevnik.
Rogers, C.R., Farson, R.E., & University of Chicago. (1957). Active listening. Chicago: Industrial Relations Center, the University of Chicago.
Vodopija, Š., Vajs, A. (2010). Vještina slušanja u komunikaciji i medijaciji : priručnik i savjetnik za uspješnu komunikaciju. Zadar: Naklada.