According to listening expert and researcher Dr. Ralph Nichols "The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them”. Listening as Nichols points out is both necessary and an integral aspect of the communication process and is one of the most important skills one can acquire. Although critically important in everyday and professional affairs the specific skill of effectively listening unfortunately is lacking in most people. The ability to listen effectively significantly impacts all relationships be it professional, personal or social. The prevailing issue with effective listening however is two-fold, in not truly understanding the meaning of listening and not possessing the tools required to be an effective listener.
The skill of listening according to Dr. Robert Bolton (1979) extends beyond simply hearing sound as a physiological sensory process but instead requires and involves interpreting and understanding the sensory experience or what is being heard (p 32). It also is an active experience wherein the listener is fully engaged and has absorbed the information of the speaker while showing interest and providing feedback all while demonstrating that they have heard and understand the message. It is a fair assertion that most people in varying relationships and environments listen in what is considered a passive capacity or only digesting and processing bits and pieces of the speaker’s message. This type of listening lends itself to frequent miscommunication, mixed messages and overall misunderstandings. Effective listening on the other hand provides concise communication, decreases interpersonal conflict and mistakes and also significantly aides in the quick resolution of conflict when issues arise. Listening effectively also increases productivity, knowledge and overall understanding. Most researchers would agree that mastering the skill of effective listening is a difficult feat however, not impossible.
In his acclaimed book People Skills Dr. Robert Bolton (1979) identifies the key skill clusters of effective listening as attending skills, following skills and reflecting skills that can be employed to create and reinforce effective listening skills (Bolton, 1979, p. 33). Attending or listening with your whole body is nonverbal communication that lets the speaker know that you are fully engaged and attentively listening, this includes eye contact and appropriate body language and motion (Bolton, 1979, p 36). Body language and eye contact play a primary role in demonstrating a person’s involvment and level of interest in what a speaker is saying. For example actions as simple as crossing legs and arms can express being closed off and defensiveness (Bolton, 1979, p 35). In the technique of following he explains that while it is important not to repeatedly interrupt the speaker the listener should actively engage in minimal encourages. ...