Everyone knows how to listen, right? Wrong! Everyone has two ears, but listening is a learned activity. In a group setting, listening is essential to the overall success of the group. There is probably no single activity that wastes more time in groups than poor listening.
Listening is especially difficult in groups because of multiple perceptions, multiple speakers, and conflicting viewpoints. The importance of effective listening in groups, and subsequently the consequences of poor listening, cannot be overemphasized.
Most of us are not good listeners. Yet few people would sign up for a course in listening unless they realized the advantage they would have over the general population.
After listening to the Sabbath sermon this week, see how many points you can recall immediately after the service. Without reviewing that list, attempt to recall the main points of the sermon on Sunday morning at 11:00.
You could blame any lack of recall on the individual who preached; however, this exercise should help you realize that without any type of listening training we listen at only 25 percent efficiency. Seventy-five percent of what we hear is not retained. It’s lost!
The 25 percent retained passes through our perceptual frame and, when we share the information, becomes our interpretation of what was said rather than what was actually stated.
It is important to realize that hearing and listening are very different. Hearing is a biological function for everyone except the deaf. Hearing occurs automatically without conscious effort on our part. We can hear sound, voices, vocalization, and much more and still not be able to summarize what has just transpired.
What then is the difference between hearing and listening, and how can we learn to be effective listeners in small groups? While our bodies, including our ears, are present, our mind may be in an entirely different place. In contrast listening is a deliberate process through which we attempt to remember what we have heard. Listening takes conscious effort to comprehend and remember what is heard.
The Listening Gap
Staying totally focused on a speaker in a group setting is a real challenge. Most people speak at a rate of 125 to 150 words per minute. In contrast most individuals can think at a speed of three or four times that rate. The difference between the speaking rate and the thinking rate is the listening gap.
Poor listeners in groups use this gap to daydream or to talk to their neighbors. Good listeners, however, use the extra thought speed to enhance their critical listening and take notes or summarize main ideas to enhance their comprehension.
Noise can be physical, such as squeaking chairs. Psychological noise occurs when you have received bad news. No matter how hard you try to listen to what is being said, your mind is focused on your body’s reaction to the bad news.
Another form of noise common in groups is that created when someone says something that personally offends you. You have trouble letting those thoughts go and returning to what you were concentrating on.
Effective listening requires that participants in a small group or Sabbath School class:
- concentrate on what is being said verbally.
- concentrate on the body language and facial expressions of each group member.
- focus their undivided attention and total concentration on listening.
When good listening occurs:
- there is a tendency for the listener to lean toward the speaker.
- the listener tends to maintain eye contact.
- people listen with their whole body as well as their mind.
After listening for several hours at a time, we often get tired. Maybe all we have been doing is sitting in a chair or church pew. Listening for information—when done properly—is hard work.
Next time you have an opportunity to study listening, don’t overlook the advantages you would have. Invite your community, neighbors, and friends to a practical seminar at your church on how to listen effectively.
Carole Luke Kilcher
© 2006 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists