Are Listening Skills a Lost Art?
WRITTEN August 6, 2015
It is impossible to speak and listen at the same time.
Listening skills require concentration. Focus allows the brain to process the meaning of the words. So using listening skills is a two-part process.
Hearing is only the first step in listening. Then, it is understanding, perhaps following with empathy and appropriate words or actions in response.
Listening and hearing both require use of the ears. There ends their similarity.
TO HEAR is to perceive or apprehend by the ear (comes from a Latin word meaning, “to be on guard”).
TO LISTEN is to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration.
“Hard of hearing” is probably a misnomer. Most likely, many could be described as being hard of listening.
Let’s find out what an expert has to say about listening …
Arnold McCuller: Listening For the Spirit
Arnold McCuller is a solo artist and session vocalist, songwriter, and record producer, best known for his work as a touring singer with artists such as James Taylor, Phil Collins, Beck, Bonnie Raitt, and Todd Rundgren.
Listening Skills Are Vital
As a musician, a person, a friend, a lover in relationships—to be able to listen is just so much more important than talking. As a backing vocalist, I could not have had a successful career without having listened to the lead vocalist and where they were going.
Working with a lot of people who are trying to get their lives together. It’s very easy for me to talk and tell someone the things that I think that they should do. I have to really practice listening to hear what they’re feeling and what they’re going through.
I’ve learned over the years that the skill of listening is vital to understanding a person’s needs and what a person feels. The only way you can find out what they actually feel is to listen. They may not say exactly what they feel, but you can tell what they’re feeling by the way they say it.
We have to find ways not to respond when someone else is speaking. Often, we will be responding mentally before we even open our mouths. So, we are waiting for the person to stop talking so that we can respond. The key to listening is to hear the person out, to hear everything they’re saying and feeling. It’s not just the words, it’s the spirit, feeling, inflection, and emotion—all of that is involved in what they’re saying. If you are busy thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not hearing and listening well.
The main roadblock is not paying attention.
As a performer, if I’m supposed to be listening and I’m distracted, I’ve lost touch with the music and my head has gone into something else. I’m not paying attention to what I’m actually doing. My focus has been pulled. The key is maintaining focus—listening for the spiritual thing—hearing the “God voice” in what someone is saying rather than just the words.
I had a friend who would go to meetings and, rather than look at the speaker, he would close his eyes and just listen. If you can actually sit and listen to someone with your eyes closed and not judge the outside, but just listen for the words, inflection, and emotion, you might get a lot more out of it.
The chief block to true listening skills is “the self.” When “the self” steps in, listening ends. As soon as thoughts of the listener move to her/his own self, the focus has been broken. So when you’re thinking about you, you can’t listen to anyone else.
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.– Epictetus, Greek Philosopher
Image by Tushar Kansara on Flickr
Listening is a topic covered in our Improving Communications Leadership & Management Development and Customer Service classes. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of the public classes.
Other Listening Skills Articles:
Guitarist Steve Morse on Listening – IC Interview
Kasim Sulton: One Word — Focus – IC Interview
Nick Beggs – Listening Means Understanding Relationships – IC Interview
Jordan Rudess — Listening with Focus – IC Interview
Rod Morgenstein — Listening: One Cohesive Unit – IC Interview
Musician Carl Palmer on Listening – IC Interview
Simon Phillips — Listening Outside Yourself – IC Interview
Nick Beggs — Listening means Understanding Relationships – IC Interview
Pat Mastelotto— Listening Requires Concentration – IC Interview