02 May 2019

Listening to Others

Listening to Others

Listening is complementary to speaking. When we speak we try to convey information to others and when we listen to others we concern ourselves with what others are trying to tell us.

Listening itself is an intentional act to perceive what information people are trying to convey to us. Hearing is about sound perception, but does not convey meaning or at least is not supposed to convey meaning. Thus, listening is about an intentional act to perceive information carrying sound we can convert to meaning. We can safely say that sound becomes information when we decode the meaning associated with the sound.

In our context listening is about what other people want to convey to us: but this need not be language type exchange. People might use various forms of means to convey meaning: ambulance sirens, chimes of the ice cream vans, the ding dong of a lift, a child crying and so on. Indeed one of the most important features is context: without a common context between “speaker” and listener there won’t be any meaning.

So what are the issues for us when it comes to listening to others? One of the main issues is the ability of the speaker to convey the intended information to others. When we want to communicate with others we want them to act on our message, but this cannot happen without conveying the right information.

Indeed this is one of the drawbacks of language; sometimes the efficiency of language is limited to those who understand that language, something akin to code breakers. And of course, language can also be an issue for those whose command of a language is very limited. Nuances and subtle meanings can easily be lost in the absence of an adequate command of a language.

These language issues are not only relevant for non native speakers of a language but also within native speakers, especially in professional contexts. Maybe the language might be the same, for example English, but meaning of words or expressions might change from country to country. The danger here is that the listener might misinterpret certain language acts or maybe misunderstands completely what is being conveyed.

Whether people are speaking or listening to each other there is always an element of emotional engagement among them. Emotions are good motivators for people to do something for example listen to someone speak. Good speakers make people listen to them, for example by using emotive language, use pauses and gestures in the correct places.

One sure criterion that makes us listen to others is when they say something of great interest or importance to us. An example is when there is an unexpected announcement on the metro. New information is always interesting for us; which probably explains why students of a second language find learning the language difficult. They are subjected to the same stale and old information that is simply not interesting and certainly not relevant.

In effect, intelligent listening means not interrupting others while others are speaking. Apart from being impolite, interrupting others means that we are not listening but reacting to words. Too much interrupting others might even backfire and turn people against us.  The other effect of interrupting others means that we deprive ourselves of useful information others are willing or unwittingly prepared to share with us.

Best Lawrence

Ruel has sent us the link to his essay "Listening to Others" by Ruel

And this is the link to my essay:
Listening to Others by Lawrence

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