Poor listening may defeat the very purpose of oral communication. It has been found by authorities on the subject that generally people retain only about one fourth of what they hear after two days. In this way listening becomes the weakest link in oral communication.
It is, therefore, very important to improve the ability to listen. It requires serious efforts on the part of the listener to absorb what he is being told. It is largely a matter of mental conditioning. We will listen carefully only if we want to listen. Mostly people become lazy, and listening requires serious work. We have to train ourselves to listen attentively. With an alert mind we have to learn to pay attention to spoken words. The best guidance in this regard is contained in the following. ‘Ten commandments of Listening’ as formulated by Keith Davis and John W. Newstrom:
- ‘Stop talking’: Unfortunately, most of us are more prone to talking than listening. Generally we are more interested in what we want to say than in what we are being told. So we must stop talking before we listen.
- ‘Put the talker at ease’. If the speaker/talker is not at ease he will not be able to do his job satisfactorily. So it is very important for the listener/listener to make the talker comfortable.
- ‘Show the talker that you want to listen’. The talker must be given to understand that the listener/listeners are eager to listen. Hence it is important not to distract the talker by looking at your watch, reading some book or newspaper or looking away from him. Moreover, you should give the talker the impression that you are listening to him to understand rather than to oppose.
- ‘Remove distractions’. Certain activities like tapping with a pen or pencil, shuffling papers or passing something along distracts the talker.
- ‘Empathize with the talker’. True exchange of information can take place if we place ourselves in the position of the talker. This way we will be able to appreciate his point of view and build up a climate conducive to communication.
- ‘Be patient’. Patience pays. This saying holds good in every situation. We should give enough time to the talker. There are all kinds of talkers. Some get to the point very quickly, while some take a lot more time. So we must give the talker enough time to come to his point in his own way. We must not be tempted to interrupt.
- ‘Hold your temper’. Anger is the worst enemy of communication as it builds walls among the participants in the communication event. It hardens their positions and blocks their minds to other’s words.
- ‘Go easy or argument and criticism’. As Dale Carnegie has every succinctly said, you cannot win an argument. Argument and criticism do not lead anywhere. On the other hand, argument and criticism put the talker on the defensive and make him angry.
- ‘Ask questions’. Putting questions shows an open mind. It shows that you are listening. It shows that you are getting the message and also giving the feedback.
- ‘Stop talking’. This is the last as well as the first commandment. All other commandments or rules of listening depend on it.
In this way we see that we can improve our listening only through conscious effort. Here it is worthwhile to consider the role of silence in communication.
Silence, by its very nature, communicates. It can be deftly used to communicate. There is an age old saying- “Silence is half consent”. Yes, very often, especially in response to a request or a question regarding our opinion about something, we keep quiet. That serves the purpose. It shows our approach is positive. On the other hand, silence can also send out a negative signal. For example, if somebody asks us for a loan and we keep quiet it will generally be construed as a negative response. It we want to help somebody we openly say so. Silence also shows our disinterestedness in something. Our interest in something or somebody freely comes to our lips and is evident through our eyes. Interest has an inbuilt element of excitement while lack of interest is best expressed through silence. And we also keep quiet to suppress our anger. A keen observer can easily make out our attitude and interpret our silence in such a situation.
Collective’s silence of workers in an office communicates a lot about their attitude to work and their culture. There is a world of difference between a place buzzing with raucous noises and one that has people working quietly. Working quietly shows satisfaction while making noises at work shows some discontent.
In a meeting or group discussion if somebody keeps quiet it is construed that he is mentally absent or probably not really interested in what is going on. It may also be interpreted as his ignorance of the matter being discussed. In the same way a candidate’s silence in an interview betrays his ignorance.
Silence on the part of the audience at the time of a speech shows interest and participative listening. Speaking at such time will distract the speaker and give a poor impression of the audience. That is why quite often we hear ‘silence please In this way see that silence is a multipronged communication tool and ‘speaks’ louder than words.