Refer & Earn

What is Listening?

What is Listening?

Vivek Jayaraman
15th Nov, 2021

Listening is considered a vital skill for coaches and facilitators. Is it only them who need this skill? As beings who converse with others every day, we all need to be great listeners. If we are not listeners, then people won't like to talk to us. It is a skill that applies to almost everyone. 


What is Listening?

The dictionary meaning of listening is to pay attention. Wikipedia calls listening as a process of receiving and understanding information. When someone speaks, they pass on a piece of information through speech. It reaches us through our ears and goes to our brain for processing. If a person shares a sign through hand movement, we capture it using our eyes. 


Humans can receive information from the external world through multi-sensory ways. It could be through hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, or tasting. Our senses guide us to receive the information that comes to us. The belief of people thinking that listening can happen only through ears is wrong. Even deaf and blind people can listen. Helen Keller has been deafblind from the tender age of two. She became a graduate and has written so many books as well. She can neither hear nor see, but she could listen to others using the Tadoma method. Tadoma involves feeling the lips and the vibrations of the speaker's throat. 


Listening does not mean that someone stays silent and waits for their turn to speak. Listening implies that one absorbs the information. As human beings, we are also intelligent beings considering the sizable amount of our neocortex. Intelligence is the ability to receive and process information. If listening is receiving information, then it's half intelligence. 


Levels of Listening

There are three levels of listening, and they are,

  • Level 1: Internal Listening
  • Level 2: Focused Listening
  • Level 3: Global Listening



Level 1: Internal Listening

This level is more about what one listens to inside their head. Let us say someone is speaking and we are more worried about some personal issue of ours. We would be physically present there, but mentally we are thinking about something else. It may look like we are listening, but we are more listening to ourselves than the conversation. People who want to make genuine dialogue will easily spot a fake listener in the conversation. 


A fake listener may try to affirm and acknowledge thinking that the other person may fall for it. However, when the conversation gets serious, the internal listener cannot hold long. Try speaking to a person reading a menu in the restaurant or watching a series on TV; you will know how they struggle to listen to the conversation as their focus is on something else. 


When we drive with music on, we can either listen to music or watch the road. Many a time, we replay the music because we haven't done justice to it. It is because we were more focused on the road. In the same way, if we are more focused on the music, we may not remember the places we crossed. In internal listening, the focus is more on the Internal Auditory Dialogue (IAD). 


Think about having a conversation with a colleague and imagining what is happening in the home right now. 

"by this time, my kid would have reached home."

"Will my wife be taking a nap or doing her pending work?"

The IAD will take the focus away from the actual conversation. Our minds will not absorb the information due to its other engagement. 


Level 2: Focused Listening

At this level, the listener actively focuses on the conversation and absorbs the information as it comes. We need to understand that people like to have a conversation with someone who naturally listens to people. Think of great conversations you had with someone or think of people you end up having great conversations with; they are all great listeners. 


When we are sick, we go to the doctor for consultation. We want to be heard during sickness. Please think of the doctors we usually like to go to during illness; they are all great listeners. Imagine going to a doctor who focuses on writing prescriptions than talking to you. We may not choose them again. One of the reasons people go to the nearby clinics than big hospitals is because local doctors engage in great conversations. 


Think of a supervisor who welcomes you, keeps the keyboard and notebook away. Inquires on your visit and maintains the dialogue by focusing on your conversation. The conversation would get more exciting, and you would like to share more information since you understand that the other person is listening. Such discussions happen only when there is focused listening. Focused listening is the actual listening.


In focused listening, we adjust our posture to lean more towards the other person and keep the focus sharp. As the conversation goes on, much of what goes on outside the conversation gets out of the awareness. When you focus on listening, you listen to what people say, how they say, their expressions, emotions, smiles, tears, and almost everything they show. 


Level 3: Global Listening

Take an example of talking to a co-worker in their cubicle, meeting room, pantry, coffee shop outside the workplace, somewhere in a restaurant for lunch, or perhaps in a bar for dinner. If you were a global listener, you could have sensed a difference in your co-worker. The person could have shown you a difference in how they spoke, their behavior, feelings/emotions, energy, and almost every other thing you can notice. 


In Global Listening, rely on your intuition to guide the environment, the person, their conversation, and all of that. Stage performers, public speakers, and trainers have Level-III listening skills as they sense their audience's energy and emotions to adjust their shows accordingly. One can feel things instantly in Level III with their intuition guiding them thick and thin. Even the unspoken things get clear at this level. 


Understanding levels is the first step in knowing what our reality is in listening. Those who call themselves great listeners are stuck in limbo between Level I and II. Listening is a skill as it needs to practice and developed. We can work on it just like any other muscle. The million-dollar question is how we can develop listening skills and progress from Level I to III. When it comes to skill development, there are no shortcuts. One cannot jump from Level-I to Level-III without practicing Level-II.


How can I improve my Listening Skills?

Before practicing to listen, we need first to understand what stops us from listening. Whenever we receive a piece of information, we engage our sensual experience to get the information. It could be either through hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, or smelling. Let us say you are a hardcore atheist and invited for a keynote by a religious leader; how much information would you grasp from the speech? In the same way, how much can you listen if you do not like the person presenting a report in a meeting?


When we read a book, we zone out slowly at times. We suddenly realize that we are not listening to the book but just glancing. Then we go back to figure out the page and the line we listened to and continue from there. For listening to music or reading a book, this will be perfectly applicable. Think of having a conversation with someone and trying to go back five minutes before you zoned out. Funny, isn't it? 


What stops us from being great listeners is our filters. 


What is a Filter?

A filter is the collection of things that we have accumulated over a while. Those are our experiences, memories, ideologies, morals, values, beliefs, language, traits, attitudes, and so on. It gets formed when we experience new things, meet new people, has new conversations, learns, etc. 


Our view of the world constantly changes as we experience new things. These filters get updated and when we learn or experience something unique. Our values and beliefs guide our behaviors and attitudes. What stops us from listening better are these filters. 


There is one concept that we can practice that can help with our listening; it is mindfulness. Being mindful helps us become great listeners.


Mindfulness and Conscious Awareness

The dictionary meaning of mindfulness is "deliberately aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment to create a feeling of calm." There is a famous dialogue in the movie Kung Fu Panda, "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that's why it is called present." Being mindful means being in the present. What stops us from being mindful is our past and the future. 


Any associated filters have roots in the past, which troubles our awareness. The future is unknown and has fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety steal our present state. To be mindful, one needs to be consciously aware of themselves. As per Wikipedia, "Self-awareness is how an individual consciously knows and understands their character, feelings, motives, and desires.


With the heightened sense of oneself, one can achieve self-consciousness—the ability to self-introspect one's feelings and get a meta-view of things. Self Consciousness helps one understand and reflect on the things that stop them from being a good listener. Listen to oneself, and that helps in listening to others. 


The world needs more listeners. People like to speak and open up to people who listen. Great conversations do happen when people listen. Be a great listener. 

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