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Ensure you are always all ears


Communication is a two-way process that only works if you listen to the other party.

Listening is a hugely important skill in boosting another person’s self-esteem; it is the silent form of flattery that makes people feel supported and valued. Listening and understanding what others communicate to us is the most important part of successful interaction.
When people decide to communicate with someone, they want something or have feelings or thoughts about something. In deciding to communicate, they select the method or code - verbal or non-verbal - they believe will effectively deliver the message to the other person. When the coded message is received, it is decoded or interpreted; effective communication exists when the receiver interprets and understands the sender’s message in the same way the sender intended it.

We were given two ears but only one mouth because listening is twice as hard as talking. There are three basic listening modes:

  • Competitive or combative listening: we are more interested in promoting our own point of view than in understanding or exploring someone else’s. We either listen for openings to take the floor, or for flaws or weak points we can attack. As we pretend to pay attention we are impatiently waiting for an opening or formulating our rebuttal and planning a devastating comeback that will destroy their argument and make us the victor.
  • Passive/attentive listening: we genuinely want to hear and understand the other person’s view. We are attentive and passively listen; we assume we heard and understand correctly, but do not verify it.
  • Active or reflective listening: the single most useful and important listening skill. In active listening, we are also genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking, feeling, wanting or what the message means, and we actively check our understanding before we respond with our own new message. We restate or paraphrase our understanding of their message and reflect it back to the sender for verification. This verification or feedback process is what distinguishes active listening and makes it effective.

Listening effectively is difficult because people vary in their communication skills and in how clearly they express themselves; they often have different needs, wants and purposes for interacting. The different types of interaction or levels of communication also add to the difficulty.

  • This article is adapted from How To Be Happy: Simple ways to Build your Confidence and Resilience to Become a Happier, Healthier You by Liggy Webb (Capstone, £10.99). Available from

Liggy Webb is widely respected as a leading expert in the field of modern life skills. She has developed a range of techniques and strategies to support individuals and organisations to cope more successfully with modern living.

How to be an effective listener

  • Actively listen to hear what other people have to say
  • Give people time and be present when you are with them
  • Develop your communication skills
  • Learn to give and take constructive feedback
  • Manage technology and be aware of its pitfalls: never spend time on a mobile when you are in a face-to-face meeting with someone else, and don’t read emails while you are on the phone



Readers' comments (2)

  • tinkerbell

    i'm all ears, that's why they call me Dumbo.
    Sorry couldn't resist it.

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  • Ellen Watters

    Listening is hugely important of course but there are often distractions which make it difficult to HEAR.

    Being told bad news for instance, often patients hear the bad news but everything said to them afterwards is just a blur. This is why repeating and confirming what has been said is important.

    Distractions such as bleeps buzzers, talking, people rushing to and fro also affects our ability to hear, especially if our concentration is already affected by a list as long as your arm of things to do etc. . Sometimes we just pick up on the key words and make the rest up...Like Chinese whispers..

    So for very important conversations such as those around end of life for instance it is so important to know that what has been said has been heard and that there are opportunities to clarify and repeat..

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