Isn’t listening easier than speaking?
Aren’t listening and paying attention the same?
Most people will answer “yes” to these two questions. But listening is actually more complicated than most people realize and in some ways, as difficult a process as expressing yourself.
While you must be paying attention in order to “listen” there are actually two types of listening: active vs. passive listening.
What is the difference between active and passive listening?
Passive listening involves acknowledging that another person is talking and following the speaker’s line of reasoning. What’s missing are two critical steps that transform “passive” listening to “active” listening: assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation is the process of hearing information and comparing it to your own knowledge, the first key to making the transition to active listening. The next critical step is accommodation: acting on the information by responding to it in some way, which might be finding an example from your own experience that illustrates what is being presented.
For the student in class this can mean listening to the teacher, copying notes from the slide or blackboard, acknowledging an understanding (assimilation), then adding a personal observation to the teacher’s idea, either by jotting it to his/her notes or sharing in the discussion (accommodation.) The process of accommodation extends the student’s thinking beyond what has already been written or spoken.
In an interview this can be illustrated by listening to the interviewer’s question, understanding the question (assimilation), then taking into account the other person’s point of view and deviating from the response you had prepared to answer a specific question (accommodation.) The prepared, personal “elevator” speech that does not address the topic or question posed can destroy your chances of being hired, making a sale or achieving a promotion.
If you answered “yes” to the two questions at the beginning of this article you may be practicing “passive” rather than “active” listening. If your interactions with others involves more of your own speaking, you may be employing only assimilation by following your own line of thought rather than going to the next step, accommodation. Transforming what you expect to say to actually responding to the other speaker’s words or questions requires “active” listening.
Consider how much this can affect you in your personal as well as your professional life. Problems of miscommunication between individuals frequently occurs because one person is employing “passive” listening only, not thoroughly engaging with what someone else has said. This can be illustrated with the famous words, “I thought you said…” The problem of not assimilating and accommodating another speaker’s words and ideas often lies at the bottom of misunderstanding between individuals. “Active” listening opens up stronger lines of understanding and communicating.
Being an “active” listener can be the key to success in school, business and personal life.
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