People spend far more time listening than they spend communicating in any other way, but only a very few people have developed good listening skills. There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing does not require major effort, but listening is hard work. One of the problems with listening is that we can listen about three times faster than most people speak. We are able to hear what the speaker is saying and still have extra time for our minds to wander to other things.
An active listener utilizes the difference between the listening and the speaking rates to make mental summaries of the conversation. One way to listen actively is to try to anticipate the next point that the individual will make. It is also important to clarify in your own mind what is being said. Generally, people try to assume too much. A good listener will let the person explain in her or his words exactly what he or she would like to say. Paraphrasing is a good way to confirm that the message is understood.
A person who has developed good listening skills will not interrupt the person who is speaking. The problem is that more people prefer to speak than to listen. Sometimes it takes a considerable amount of effort to give the person an opportunity to get the message across. Showing that you are interested in what is being said helps to put the speaker at ease. It is not enough just to listen; you also have to look like you are listening. The effective use of body language enhances listening.
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