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Good communication skills begin with listening.

Listening to communicate

Good communication is interactive, and listening is a key part of this exchange.

Along with problem-solving skills, which we’ve just looked at, communication skills also rank highly on the list of skills sought by employers.

This is no surprise, because problem solving and communication work hand in hand. For example, as we saw in the previous two steps, problem solving involves talking with others and gathering different points of view.

What does good listening involve?

Many people assume that good communication is primarily about being a confident, articulate speaker: that is, communication is about getting your ideas across. However, this is only part of the equation. Listening is the other critical factor in effective communication.

In other words, we need to listen before we speak, because usually our ideas are born in dialogue with others. We also need to listen after we speak to hear how others respond.

Good communicators even listen while they’re speaking. This includes paying attention to their audience’s non-verbal signals – such as body language – to better understand how their ideas are being received.

What happens when we listen?

Listening is a complex activity, and researchers such as Gearhart & Bodie (2011) suggest that it involves three interrelated processes. For example, when we listen:

  • we engage our thinking processes to understand and interpret what we’re hearing
  • we engage affective or emotional processes that generate sensory feedback such as excitement, which, in turn, motivates us to listen more closely
  • we engage in certain behaviours that indicate we’re responding to a speaker through activities like note taking and by giving both verbal and non-verbal feedback.

How can we become better listeners?

Being a really good listener isn’t easy.

As Sarah Green Carmichael reminds us, one of the main reasons for this is that we talk a lot slower than we think.

So, while we’re listening to someone talking at about 120 words a minute, our busy brain is charging ahead, getting distracted by something in the distance like what you want to say next or suddenly remembering something from last night or something that happened the last time you met the person you are speaking with.

Just being aware of this process and consciously training yourself to come back to listening whenever you realise your mind has wandered is a good start on the road to better listening. It’s also a mindfulness practice, which we’ll explore more in the next step.

You might also spend a day trying to be really conscious of how easily your mind is distracted when listening to others and see what you learn from this exercise. As you do this, keep in mind that becoming distracted from what someone is saying is a very natural process and don’t give yourself a hard time about it.

For more ideas about how to develop your listening skills, explore the listening tips in the article links listed at the end of this step.

What has listening got to do with resilience?

In the first week of this course we talked about how resilience is a social process and how we become more resilient by connecting with others and feeling their support in times of stress and personal growth.

In the last few steps we also talked about prototyping conversations and gathering different perspectives to help us better understand and reframe problems so we can ‘build our way forward’.

Finally, listening is not a passive skill; it’s part of the way we actively create our world and learn to practise openness to all the challenges it presents us. This is a key part of developing an adaptable, resilient mindset.

Your task

Good listening is often described as ‘active’ listening.

Use your search engine to find some articles about active listening or follow the links listed under ‘see also’ and, in the comments, share what you discovered about how to become a better listener.

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This article is from the free online course:

Professional Resilience: Building Skills to Thrive

Deakin University

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • What is resilience?
    What is resilience?
    video

    In this article, Associate Professor Marcus O'Donnell asks what is resilience and why is it so important to 21st century professionals?

  • Multiple image of businessman writing something on a wall
    Build your way forward
    article

    Ready why prototyping is a key element of design thinking that means solving problems through experimentation and playing with possible solutions.

  • Smiling volunteers unloading cardboard boxes from truck
    Compassion for self and others
    article

    In this article, Assoc Prof Marcus O'Donnell outlines how compassion, including self-compassion, helps build resilience.