Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Assuming an individual is not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something that one consciously chooses to do. Listening requires concentration so that the brain processes, meaning from words and sentences.
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Listening leads to learning, but this is not always an easy task. The normal adult rate of speech is 100-150 words per minute, but the brain can think at a rate of 400-500 words per minute, leaving extra time for daydreaming, or anticipating the speaker’s or the recipient’s next words.
As opposed to hearing, listening skills can be learned and refined. The art of active listening allows you to fully receive a message from another person. Especially in a situation involving anger or a tense interchange, active listening allows you to be sensitive to the multiple dimensions of communication that make up an entire message. These dimensions include:
The occasion for the message: What is the reason why the person is communicating with me now?
The length of the message: What can the length of the message tell me about its importance?
The words chosen: Is the message being made formally? Is it with aloofness or slang?
The volume and pace: What clues do the loudness and speed give me?
The Pauses and Hesitations: How do these enhance or detract from the message?
Non-verbal clues: What does eye contact, posture, or facial expressions tell me about the message?
Empathy is the capability to share and understand another’s emotions and feelings. Empathetic listening is the art of seeking a truer understanding of how others are feeling. This requires excellent discrimination and close attention to the nuances of emotional signals. According to Stephen Covey in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, empathetic listening involves five basic tasks:
- Repeat verbatim the content of the communication; the words, not the feelings
- Rephrase content; summarize the meaning of the words in your own words
- Reflect feelings; look more deeply and begin to capture feelings in your own words. Look beyond words for body language and tone to indicate feelings.
- Rephrase contents and reflect feelings; express both their words and feelings in your own words.
Discern when empathy is not necessary – or appropriate.