The importance of listening can be classified under a range of areas: life skills, professional skills, relationship skills, etc. The fact that it touches so many areas of our lives should be proof enough alone that it’s a crucial component to a well-rounded and successful life.
When it comes to listening, the best way to understand its usefulness is to break it down and really dive into the details. The more you know about something, the better you can apply it to your life and reap the full benefits of your efforts.
Listening and Communication
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to effective communication is that they forget to listen when, in reality, listening is typically more important than talking. When you hear, you can accurately receive and interpret what someone is trying to get across to you, and that proves vital in many of life’s various situations.
If you want clear communication, complete understanding, and beneficial relationships, you have to have that listening component. Listening is a common factor across all successful initiatives.
Excellent communication involving superb listening skills can lead to benefits within your job situation, personal relationships, your education, and your everyday life. By exploring these areas, we can better understand the importance of listening and the impact it can have throughout each of them.
Listening in Children
Learning how to listen effectively and fully starts at a very young age. When we are young children, our parents likely did their best to instill traits of active listening in our lives. And, when we didn’t listen, they probably made it particularly clear that they were not thrilled with us.
Listening skills in a child are essential as they set the stage for this skill throughout the rest of their lives. The traits that you make clear and meaningful now will last them for a lifetime, and even at a young age, they will pick up on the things you say and do.
In some ways, listening skills can prove to be a matter of safety in a child’s life. They need to listen to a teacher’s instructions during a fire drill to ensure they get out of the building safely. They also need to listen to a lifeguard when they tell them not to run around the pool to keep them from getting hurt. Listening means taking a parent’s rule into deep consideration to avoid injury or harm.
Listening also helps a child form and maintain relationships. It allows them to hear their friends at school and have productive conversations. It also helps them learn and take in information, further developing their minds and cognitive abilities.
When it comes to listening in regards to children, there are three main components:
- The ability to absorb information
- The ability to respond to instructions
- The ability to share thoughts, ideas, and opinions with others
Listening skills in children are much like strengthening a muscle. You need to continually exercise it and keep it healthy with consistency and practice. Likewise, a child needs constant reminders and practice to hone their listening skills.
There are a few ways that you can instill the importance of listening in your child without driving it to the point of exhaustion.
For starters, before doing anything else, make sure you have your child’s full attention. Nothing will truly sink in if they are distracted by something else. Unless it’s a part of the listening activity, make sure he’s out of reach of any televisions, music, or toys.
You can double-check to make sure your child is focused by enforcing eye contact. Encourage your son or daughter to look directly at your eyes while you are talking. Not only will this ensure they are a part of the process, but it’s a good lesson for when they’re older; eye contact is vital in the professional world.
Once you have their attention, you can turn to some techniques and exercises to help develop better listening skills.
Try reading out loud with your child, but make it an interactive activity. Rather than reading the story from beginning to end with no interruptions, stop before turning the page and ask your child a question? What’s going to happen next? What do you think of this character? Do you like the story so far?
By communicating with your child, it keeps them actively a part of the situation. It also helps to keep them engaged and interested in what’s going on, rather than letting them drift and daydream. Do this every time you read a story so that your child will expect it. They will start to anticipate your questions and will actively listen and pay attention so that they can answer them when they come.
Remember that children learn a lot by merely watching the role models in their life. As a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or a guardian, your child looks to you for development, learning, and how-tos. So, be sure to demonstrate good listening in your life.
If your child is telling you a story, do your best not to interrupt them. Show that you are actively listening by nodding and smiling and asking follow-up questions. You can also teach them good listening skills by not allowing them to interrupt, either. If you are having a conversation with a friend at the kitchen table and your child runs up and interrupts their sentence, be sure to gently correct them.
There are tons of other tactics you can take to instill the importance of listening in your child, so learning what steps to consider is what will set both you and them up for success in the future.
Listening in Relationships
In order to have any kind of successful relationship, you need to be able to truly and genuinely listen to your partner, friend, family member, etc. In many relationships, there’s likely to be the talker and the listener: one who naturally speaks a lot and one who says less and stays quiet more often.
Of course, that’s not how every relationship naturally ends up, and so listening – or lack thereof – can quickly become a sore spot that causes tension and hurt.
Active listening is a skill of sorts, but it’s also a conscious decision that we all make every day. Some of us naturally care more to actively listen, so it seems to come more easily, while others have more flighty, unsettled personalities that can make sitting still and remaining quiet more difficult.
But active listening is all about making a choice to really hear someone out and take in what they say. When you actively listen, you are deciding to be focused entirely on an individual, their voice, and their feelings, and you do your best to try to understand them.
In fact, listening is so critical in relationships that therapists become involved to do the listening for the individuals involved. If you have ever been a part of couple’s therapy, you know that the therapist serves as a guide and an expert to direct the conversation and interpret what they see and hear. But they also serve as someone to listen.
Too often in relationships that are struggling, each side is not listening. When a therapist becomes involved, it’s their job to do the listening for one another. Two people who are talking, but not listening, will never solve anything.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to listening in a relationship of any kind is to think about whether you are listening to respond or listening to understand. If you are listening to respond, then you’re not genuinely listening at all. If, while someone is talking, all you’re doing is formulating what you’re going to say when it’s your turn, then you’re not focusing on the words coming out of their mouth.
You might think you can multitask and do both: listen while coming up with a response. But truthfully, you will never fully understand what someone is saying if your mind is anywhere but present with them.
On the other hand, studies show that listening to understand leads to much higher levels of satisfaction across personal relationships.
Without understanding, there is no trust, there is no resolution, and there is no deeper connection. Two people talking at one another but not listening is pointless; no one is learning anything about the other because no one cares enough to take the time to absorb anything they’re saying.
Another challenge of listening in a relationship is determining whether you’re listening because someone needs an answer or because they simply need to be heard.
This difference mainly comes between men and women. Much of the time, women express that they simply want someone to listen to them. They’re not looking for a solution to their problem; they just want to be heard.
On the flip side, men usually want a solution. They either want to fix their own issues, or they want to fix whatever is being brought to their attention.
This situation is not a cookie-cutter one; there are times when men just want to be heard, and women want solutions. So, the trick to getting clear communication and thoughtful, appropriate listening is to simply ask. There’s nothing wrong with saying to someone, “before you start, are you looking for an answer, or do you just want to be heard?”
This small step can turn a disastrous argument into a pleasant conversation with just one question.
The same applies to relationships that are not romantic as well. Parents and children often have a hard time listening to one another because there’s an age gap. Children might think their parents are too outdated to understand, while adults might not think their child is mature enough to have the conversation.
Listening involves various levels of respect. A child can learn to listen to and respect their parents, while a parent can do the same for their child. All the while, a balance can be found to come to an understanding that the parent is still in charge, without the “what I say goes” mentality.
Friendships, too, deserve the same level of respect and effort. If one person in a friendship feels that the other never listens to them, then that friendship is doomed. Eventually, the first friend will grow tired of the other’s lack of concern or understanding and will become less available and willing to spend time together.
Clear communication is the key to solving any listening problems. Without excessive emotions or hurtful words, you can go to someone you have a relationship with and express that you don’t feel like they truly listen to you.
Listening in the Professional World
Active listening is a key skill in the professional area of your life. In most instances, active listening can be broken down at its core as a common courtesy. We listen actively because it’s polite, and we are polite so that we can foster and maintain relationships.
However, when it comes to your job and the workplace, active listening is a necessity for overall corporate and personal success. We no longer listen just to be nice; we listen to succeed.
The importance of listening in the workplace lends itself to the difference between productivity and failure, profit and loss, advancement, and termination.
So how can we make sure that we understand the importance of listening in our jobs and practice it across all areas? Some essential components can help us get there.
In order to stay active in a conversation, and keep yourself from drifting, use some minimal encouragement. Not only will this keep you participating during long speeches or lists of instructions, but it will notify the speaker that you are engaged and taking in the information.
Use small, non-interrupting words like the following:
- And then what?
- Now what?
- I understand
These words may seem like unnecessary interjections, but using them tells the other person that you are hanging on their every word without actually interrupting their thoughts. Of course, in larger settings like office-wide meetings and lectures, you can’t vocally display that you are listening. In these cases, you can use things like the following:
- Maintain eye contact
- Nod your head
- Laugh at jokes
- Take notes on paper
- Ask questions when appropriate
- Follow-up after the presentation
The above actions all let a speaker know that you are engaged and listening. This is crucial during business meetings and weekly assessments to let employers and co-workers know that you are a team player.
Restate, Reflect, and Respond
Another way to show someone you’re listening in the workplace is to restate what they have said to you. When your boss comes into your office and talks to you about something important, you can respond by restating what they’ve said. By repeating it back to them, you show that you were listening and truly understand what they were saying to you.
Try also to reflect on why what they have said is important. You can say things like, “I can tell this is really important to you and the department, so I’ll be sure to get right on it.”
With an understanding of how important something is to someone else, people feel more confident that you were truly listening to them and that you won’t let them down.
Finally, when it comes to the workplace, a response is more than simply saying, “okay, I got it.” A response often comes in the form of action. When your boss asks you to do something, it’s not enough to just say you understand. You have to show that you listened and understood by going into action and completing whatever it was that she asked.
When your boss sees that you have fully completed the job to her specifications, it becomes clear that you are a good listener who takes information well and understands instruction.
Listening in Education
Throughout the greater portion of the first 25 years or so of our lives, we participate in some form of education. The traditional route involves pre-K, elementary school, middle school, high school, and then various degrees of college. Of course, there are other avenues to take. Some may get their first job right out of high school, but even that option usually involves some kind of training and job education.
Our education is meant to shape us for whatever future it is that we want for ourselves. And the greatest component of education is listening.
From a very young age, we start learning things from those around us. It usually begins with our parents, and then teachers step in to cover more extensive topics like math, history, and science.
The basis for all of this learning that is constantly going on in our lives is listening. We listen to our parents as they detail rules, teach us new words, and read out loud to us. Then, we go to school, and we listen to what the teacher says about mammals and counting and the verb tenses.
If we so choose, we then move onto college where we listen to professors tell us about political science, medical healthcare, law, or famous authors.
Throughout all of these instances, listening is the keyword.
Active listening leads to greater knowledge, so how can we actively listen in the classroom?
One very common thing that students of all ages do to ensure their active listening is to take notes. While your teacher is lecturing, you can pull out a notebook and a pen and write down their key points. I’m sure we can all remember our teachers writing things down on their chalkboards or whiteboards. Some of them created slideshows on projectors or screens for us to copy.
These things were done for our benefit to make listening a more active and engaging experience and ultimately helped us to succeed.
Another great way to improve listening in the classroom is to eliminate distractions. Most educators don’t allow cellphone use during class anyway, but it does everyone involved some good to keep them away and silent. Rather than fidgeting with your pen, use it to write down your notes.
You should also maintain eye contact. It’s easy to drift off in your thoughts during a long lecture, so keeping eye contact either with the instructor or the slideshow projected on the screen can help your listening.
Stay active by asking questions. While it may not always be appropriate to interrupt your teacher’s monologue with a raised hand, it’s okay and most often encouraged to ask questions during a class.
And most importantly, keep in mind that your education will only benefit you if you let it. If you don’t listen to what is being taught, then you can’t ever truly know the information. This can lead to major setbacks and even eventually cause you to fail, so listening in your education is crucial.
The Benefits of Listening
Over the course of the last several sections, we have discovered various reasons as to why listening is important. Naturally, the importance of listening is going to lead to some pretty hefty benefits, many of which have already been mentioned.
Here, we can summarize some of the benefits of listening to help instill the importance of it all in us and our daily lives.
The best decisions are made when we have all of the information. If you spend more of your time listening rather than thinking or speaking, you will become a great gatherer of information. The more you know, the easier it becomes to make decisions across all areas of your life.
Without listening, we are more likely to make up assumptions or jump to conclusions, both of which can be detrimental to our work life and relationships. Critical decision-making comes out of good listening, and you can’t have the first without practicing the latter.
We talked at great length about listening in our relationships, so it should be no big shocker than successful relationships come with good listening skills.
There are many factors that play into healthy interpersonal relationships, but listening is a key skill to have if you want a marriage or a friendship to thrive.
Listening to a significant other or a friend helps to build trust, confidence, and personal connection. Listening and solid communication are fundamentals that let us get to know one another and show that we care about the other person.
Listening is also a necessary tool for conflict resolution. In any instance where there is more than one person involved, there is bound to be some kind of conflict at some point. Listening is what allows us to see another person’s perspective while working together to develop a productive solution.
People feel valued and important when they are listened to. It’s common courtesy and very respectful to listen closely and compassionately to the people in our lives. When they feel valued, they are happy.
Active listening promotes productivity for many reasons. When you better listen to those around you, you can see their strengths, ideas, and opinions. Listening means allowing others to contribute, which can lead to stronger solutions in the workplace and better compromises in relationships.
We are all capable of working on our own, but sometimes listening adds a little humility to the situation and enables us to recognize better ideas and more productive solutions. Cooperation and collaboration can be huge keys to success, and they both require good listening skills.
Plus, when you’re listening, you never know when you will learn something new. You may be able to draw from a co-worker’s experience or knowledge on a certain topic in which you lack expertise. Without listening, you may never even know that this individual has information to offer.
Listening in the workplace can also boost productivity by helping you determine areas of weakness. There may be a problem that’s slowing things down or causing delays. By listening to what’s going on around you, you might be able to find that gap and fill it in. You might also be able to recognize something that’s in place that shouldn’t be.
By using good listening skills, you might just uncover underlying issues in various areas of your life. Active listening can make you aware of productivity issues in business, issues in your relationships, and signs of trouble in a friendship.
Finally, good listening is just more efficient. To put it simply, listening helps you get straight to the point. If you are listening clearly, you don’t have to ask someone to clarify or repeat what they have said. And, on your end, if you do more listening and less talking, the conversation will naturally be shorter, and you can get back to being productive quickly.
When it comes to listening, it benefits us and everyone in our lives when we work to improve our overall skills. We become better leaders, co-workers, spouses, friends, and family members when we do our best to listen and listen well.