We live in a world of noise, where social networks and technology-mediated interpersonal communication encourage us to continuously speak, write, and give our opinions. However, although we engage in dialogues, we often hardly listen to each other carefully. Therefore, developing listening skills is crucial.
According to Kate Murphy, a journalist, New York Times contributor, and author of the book, “You are not listening. What you are missing and why it matters,” “It is only by listening that we engage, understand, connect, empathize, and develop as human beings. It is fundamental to any successful personal, professional, and political relationship.”
Active listening brings enormous benefits. Although it is difficult to achieve listening skills, they can be taught. It is one of the skills that children and adolescents need to prosper in this 21st century.
4 Benefits of Learning to Listen
Listening is not just about hearing what others say but understanding others’ viewpoints, emotions, and needs. Active listening involves paying attention, showing interest, asking questions, and avoiding interrupting or judging. So here are the top benefits of listening, featured in Skills for Life: Listening.
1. Improve communication.
Active listening lets us understand what others think, feel, and want to convey. We can gain a much deeper understanding and avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications by paying attention to their words and gestures. By listening, we can also show interest and respect for others, creating a climate of trust and collaboration. For example, research by Izchakov and Kluger (2018) found that building a listening-based communication culture makes workers feel more relaxed, more self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect non-defensively, which results in an improvement in communication.
2. Increase learning.
Listening helps us learn and assimilate knowledge from different sources. For example, listening skills can improve reading comprehension, learning, and academic performance early and later (Jalongo, 2010). The first three years of life are critical for developing auditory and neural connections in the brain, and early listening experiences are building blocks for literacy. Therefore, listening skills can improve reading comprehension, learning, and academic performance.
3. Strengthen bonds between people.
We maintain our connections with others by listening. Therefore, it is a fundamental skill for any successful relationship. Furthermore, listening allows you to develop other skills, such as empathy, which leads to a better understanding and collaboration between peers. In addition, it shows respect, interest, and trust towards the other.
4. Improve mental health.
Listening has a positive impact on our mental and emotional health. By listening to other people, we can feel accompanied, understood, and supported in difficult times. This helps us reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Umphrey and Sherblom ’s (2017) empirical research shows that listening “not only connects us and helps us negotiate our relational differences, but listening also facilitates self-reflection and helps us understand and develop our ways of thinking and feeling.”
Learning to listen is relevant from early childhood and throughout adulthood
Despite its importance, listening skills are not prioritized in school curricula, although students spend between 50% and 75% of the time in class listening to their teachers, peers, or audiovisual materials (Jalongo, 2010).
By the time a person is an adult, they need to be an excellent listener to thrive in the world of work. A recent study on skills found employers look for communication in newly hired people (Carnevale et al., 2020).
Given the importance of this skill in the 21st century, how do we develop active listening skills in the new generations?
4 steps to developing active listening skills
Given the importance of listening skills in the 21st century, how do we develop active listening skills in the new generations? Here are four steps to developing active listening skills.
- Prepare to listen. Before starting to listen, think of the goal of listening and match your goal to the speaker’s goals. Also, set up the physical and emotional environment to facilitate that listening. That means putting aside any distracting thoughts and concerns to focus solely on the speaker.
- Engage in active listening. Active listening means raising your energy level to the listening process, focusing attention and concentration on the speaker, trying to understand the other person’s verbal and non-verbal language, and storing their message in working memory.
- Ask questions. You can encourage those who speak by asking open-ended questions and providing appropriate feedback, both verbal and nonverbal. This will also help you understand their message better.
- Deconstruct the listening experience. After listening, take time to reflect on how you listened, what worked, and what didn’t. This reflection can help enhance your future listening experiences.
Developing active listening skills is essential for personal and professional development. Moreover, listening is a skill that can be taught, as it can improve communication, foster empathy, and promote understanding.
Do you want to know more about developing active listening skills to advance your personal and professional development? Is it a skill that should be taught in school? We welcome your comments and feedback! To learn more about transversal skills, read this blog, and to learn about 21st Century Skills, visit our website.