Listening: The Forgotten Half of Effective Communication

Like any other “normal” couple, my girlfriend and I have our issues. Those issues, while never major, do sometimes end up in some sort of dispute. These disputes over time have changed, but one thing remains: effective communication is the glue that always brings us back together. While we have both improved in our communication skills, it wasn’t always this way, and is something that we had to consciously work on. Through the process of working to improve our communication skills as a couple, I’ve realized how important communication is in everyday life.

If you want to be successful, happy, and fulfilled in life, learning how to communicate properly and effectively is a must. Most people know this, and those that do, tend to turn toward learning how to speak and talk better in a effort to improve their communication skills. While this will certainly help to some extent, it’s leaving half of the communication equation unanswered.

Speaking + Listening = Communicating

You see, communication is about far more than just speaking and entails a large portion, if not majorly defined by, listening. Listening is like the younger, quieter sibling. It’s not as flashy, loud, and easy to notice as it’s older, more sought after sibling, speaking. Speaking, because it’s so apparent as a part of effective communication, often overshadows listening but I urge caution in this regard: those who are truly successful in life, whether it be relationships, business success, or general well-being, are those who not only speak well, but often times those who listen even better. 

You may be saying to yourself, “I hear you Adam, I do, but how hard can it be to listen?” Well, my friend, you have just answered the question for yourself. Hearing and listening are two very different things, and just because you hear someone or something, doesn’t mean you were actually listening.

Hearing + Understanding = Listening

Hearing is the physiological act of your ears taking in auditory noises and sounds. It’s a passive collection of data with no analysis, understanding, or translation of what is actually being said or heard. While hearing is a component of listening (and not actually necessary, mind you, as there are loads of people who are deaf and communicate far more effectively than people with great hearing), there are many more pieces that build the listening puzzle.

Hearing, for most, is a human sense, whereas listening is a human skill. So, while you may not be able to actively improve your hearing (without the use of external devices), you can choose to improve your listening. And learning how to effectively listen will change every aspect of your life, from your personal relationships to those you have in business and beyond. 

Become a Better Listener in 4 Easy Steps

The first step in becoming a better listener is really freaking easy: CARE. It’s that simple. Those that genuinely care about others typically care about what they have to say and are better listeners as a result. So, before you do anything else start working on empathy and caring about others. Not only will this improve your listening and communicating skills, but you’ll start to see the world through a different, more open-minded lens as well.

The second, and arguably just as important piece to better, more effective listening skills is to UNDERSTAND. Rather than listening to a person speak just to wait for your turn to respond, work to understand what that person is saying and why they’re saying what they are saying. This understanding will build into the first point of caring about the person and what they have to say, as well as allow you to actively analyze what’s being said to better receive and interpret this message. By trying to understand the other person, you put yourself in a better position to receive their message, and they will be more likely to receive and understand yours as a result.

The third component to effective listening is CURIOSITY. Being genuinely curious about, or interested in what another person is saying is a great way to build a rapport and relationship with that person during communication. Treat it like a child does almost anything: ask questions, but ask them out of curiosity rather than judgment. And make sure to reserve those questions for the proper time, after a person has finished speaking.

That brings us to the fourth and final component of effective listening skills: PATIENCE. “Patience is a virtue” as they say, and this couldn’t be more true than when it comes to listening and communicating. Too many times when we communicate, we lack the patience necessary for effective listening and jump into the conversation before the other person has had a chance to finish their thought. Not only does this cut the other person’s thought process off, but it also shows that we weren’t fully listening to what they said in the first place. The next time you get that urge, that anxious feeling that you just “need” to speak, put it on the back burner and understand that if you want to be heard and listened to, you must first hear the other person and listen to what they say. You will get a chance to voice your opinion, thoughts, concerns, etc. and by showing patience, and practicing the effective listening skills listed above, you will put yourself in a better position to be understood as well. 

Ultimately, your ability to listen effectively, and thus communicate effectively, will depend on your ability to CONNECT with those that you are communicating with. The four components above all work in unison to help you create that connection in a healthy, and genuine matter and will create deeper, more meaningful relationships with those around you. These improved relationships will lead to more success at home, school, work, and anywhere else human connection and communication is required (everywhere). 

If you want to live a better, happier, and more fulfilled life, I urge you to work on your communication skills, specifically your ability to actively listen and not just hear. The effects that improving your listening and communication skills can have on your life can not be overstated. Whether you’re looking to improve your marriage, relationships with friends and family, get that promotion at work, or simply live a happier and more fulfilled, effective communication is the skill that will bring all of that together. 

When you go out in the world today, take some of the information within this article and use it to improve your communication by focusing on your ability to listen and understand the person. Forget about a response, or getting your point across, and simply try to fully understand what the other person is saying and why. You will be surprised at all the details and nuances you pick up on that enrich the conversation and improve communication.