- Explain the benefits of active listening to your education, your personal life, and your career.
Academic Benefits of Listening
As you are reading this section as part of your college class, it seems appropriate to start with how listening is beneficial in academics. It is easy to surmise that to learn in a traditional classroom, listening is required. Bommelje, Houston, and Smither studied effective listening among 125 college students and found a strong link between effective listening and school success, supporting previous research in the field linking listening skills to grade point average. This finding is unsurprising as the better you listen while in class, the better prepared you will be for your assignments and exams. It is quite simple really. When students listen, they catch the instructions, pointers, feedback, and hints they can use to make the assignment better or get a better score on the test.
In today’s world, the uses of academic listening are changing. Online classes may require listening to pre-recorded lectures. You may be learning at a distance through a video-conferencing application. This educational format brings advantages and challenges for listening. One great advantage is the capability of recording synchronous lectures. Some professors like to record their sessions, and those that do make it easier for students to revisit the lecture content at their convenience. You can replay sections and listen to the information until you feel you retained it. For pre-recorded lectures, it is nice to be able to fast forward and go back to sections. You can review the material until you are confident in your knowledge. It is also easy to be distracted if you don’t have to be physically present in a location. You may know how hard it can be to pay attention to a video conference when your child is crying. If the professor is not engaging, it is really easy to surf to a website, finish some work, or play a game on your phone. To listen actively takes work and discipline. Active listening will assist you with retaining course information better, which results in doing better in your education. As discussed in the prior section, so much can be missed by passively listening. It is better to be focused solely on the task at hand. Just as active listening is essential to your academics, it is equally important at your job.
Professional Benefits of Listening
Developing strong listening skills will invariably improve your work performance. There are many professional advantages of active listening. It helps you to understand what was said better. It improves your ability to make connections between ideas and information. It changes your perspective and challenges your assumptions. It engages you in empathizing and showing respect or appreciation to others, which may lead to enhancing your work relationships. Honing your listening skills also assists you in building and improving your self-esteem. If it is clear that people aren’t listening at work, it becomes more problematic to get things done effectively and trust can be broken, which could lead to employees fostering resentments, which can result in very serious communication issues. Bell and Mejer, identified poor listening as a “silent killer of productivity and profit.” Thus, changing a work environment can become extremely difficult to implement when people are not listening.
Effective listening can also help you to make a better impression on employers. This impression begins at the interview. Here is an example. You really want a particular job, but during the interview you are really nervous, which results in having trouble paying attention to what the CEO of the company is saying. As the interview comes to a close, the CEO asks you if you have any questions, and you ask something you were wondering about in the elevator on the way up to her office. If you ask something that she has already covered in the interview, you’re unlikely to get the job. Even if you, somehow, convince her to hire you, that first impression might stick. You will be required to work hard to change her first impression. If you are unable to listen actively even as you work at this job, you will make little progress at the firm. Your supervisors should not have to tell you things repeatedly. Not listening could also contribute to you making decisions that cost the company a loss in profits because you weren’t paying attention effectively in a team meeting. This lack of listening could lead to losing your job.
Ferrari states the importance of actively listening in your profession well. He identifies listening as the “most critical business skill of all.” He notes, “listening can well be the difference between profit and loss, between success and failure, between a long career and a short one.” Therefore, it cannot be stressed strongly enough how important it is to work on your listening skills not only at work but in all areas of your life. The benefits to listening do not stop with your education and profession. Here is how these benefits apply personally.
Personal Benefits of Listening
The active listener who employs the skills detailed in this section is more likely to be better received by others, which, in turn, can increase their self-esteem. People like to be heard when they speak. So, those who listen actively are also more likely to reduce tension in situations and resolve conflict. There are times when having someone just listen to another’s grievances and attempt to understand can dissolve a situation.
The process of actively listening assists people with strengthening intimate relationships. A spouse wants their partner to hear them when they speak. Remembering small details shows that you are really listening and care about the other person. Following through on requests demonstrates that you paid attention to the request and didn’t forget. It is the small actions within listening that show the loved one that you take the time to be focused on them. You are showing them that they are important and worthy of attention. This goes a long way toward sustaining a positive relationship.
The same holds true for familial relationships. A child wants their parents to stop what they are doing and listen to their issue. Children are more secure and have better self-esteem if parents listen actively to them. For you, the issues a child has may be small, but to them these issues are paramount and the center of their life. Taking the time to listen and show you are listening can help to reduce conflict within the household. Active listening gives you the skills to demonstrate that the child’s problem is important to you too, no matter how small. This, in turn, instills trust and security in the parent-child relationship.
Truly listening to the words of another is sure to make a positive difference in your interactions whether they are academic, professional, or personal.
To Watch: William Ury
In this video, negotiator and mediator William Ury talks about the power of listening.
What to watch for:
Note how Ury uses anecdotes—one about a high-stakes political negotiation, the other about a high-stakes business negotiation. These stories do a lot of work in his speech: they establish the importance of what he has to say about listening, they offer examples of what listening looks like in everyday life, and they establish Ury’s credibility as a negotiator on the global stage. You can use this technique in your own public speaking. If you can think of a story or example from your own experience that dramatizes the importance of the point you’re trying to make, it can be a very effective way to persuade, inform, and entertain your audience.
- Bommelje, R., Houston, J. M., & Smither, R. (2003). Personality characteristics of effective listeners: A five factor perspective. International Journal of Listening, 17(1), 32–46. ↵
- Hoppe, M. H. (2006). Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead. United States: Center for Creative Leadership. ↵
- Majer, C., & Bell, C. T. (2011). The silent killers of productivity and profit: New wastes for a new world. T+ D, 65(2), 62–67. ↵
- Ferrari, B. T. (2012). Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All. United States: Penguin Publishing Group. p. 2 ↵
- Wobser, A., Routh, J. L., Wright, K., Mares, L., & Educational Video Network, Inc. (2004). Developing positive listening skills: How to really listen. Huntsville, TX: Educational Video Network. ↵