Lis­ten­ing skills in busi­ness

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By YONG AH YONG

He that has ears, let him hear. GOD has given all of us two ears and one mouth, so He ex­pects us to ac­tively com­mu­ni­cate by lis­ten­ing and speak­ing, per­haps im­ply­ing that we should lis­ten more than speak.

When some­one speaks, we lis­ten. Some mes­sages are unim­por­tant, so it is okay to just lis­ten and for­get.

But in the busi­ness set­ting, al­most every­thing spo­ken is im­por­tant. So while lis­ten­ing to a speaker, it is help­ful to take notes so as to re­mem­ber the main ideas.

Some sim­ple writ­ing makes the ma­te­rial eas­ier to re­call. It also com­pels us to pin­point and pay at­ten­tion to the key is­sues.

A jour­nal­ist is a good ex­am­ple of ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ing: she lis­tens, and writes, at the same time.

When I see stu­dents mak­ing notes dur­ing my lec­ture, I am happy. When I come upon a stu­dent who just stares at the screen and blinks at me, with no notepad and pen in front of him, I will just walk close to him and say: “Are you fol­low­ing?” Lis­ten­ing, af­ter all, is not as pas­sive a lan­guage skill as we used to think. Good lis­ten­ers are ac­tive learn­ers, thinkers and an­a­lysts.

I am re­minded of an­other Scrip­ture verse: “Hav­ing eyes, see ye not? And hav­ing ears, hear ye not? And do ye not re­mem­ber?”

Ac­tive lis­ten­ing in­volves a num­ber of phys­i­cal as well as men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties.


Hear­ing is the re­cep­tion of sounds. You hear drum­beats, fire­crack­ers and ve­hi­cles pass­ing by, but you don’t lis­ten to such sounds or noise.

To lis­ten, you must con­cen­trate on the speaker and un­der­stand what he is try­ing to tell you.

Of course, hear­ing may im­ply lis­ten­ing at times. When your boss asks, “Do you hear me?”, he is ac­tu­ally say­ing, “Are you lis­ten­ing to me? You don’t seem to be.”


It is im­por­tant to know the code of the speaker, that is, his lan­guage. If some­one speaks in Ja­panese and you know no Ja­panese, there is no lis­ten­ing; there is only hear­ing, which makes no sense.

If the speech is in English, you must have a suf­fi­cient com­mand of the lan­guage, and a good vo­cab­u­lary, to un­der­stand it. And you should ask ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tions if you are un­clear about a cer­tain point. Then only you will know what is hap­pen­ing.


Re­mem­ber­ing is es­sen­tial if you in­tend to put what the speaker pro­poses into prac­tice.

Com­mon tech­niques for re­tain­ing and re­call­ing in­for­ma­tion are tak­ing notes, and tape-record­ing or vide­o­record­ing the speech.

Some speak­ers pre­pare and dis­trib­ute their texts, but most of them don’t.

The best way to re­mem­ber, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, is to fo­cus on the speech, make notes and ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion af­ter the talk, if nec­es­sary.


You need to take into ac­count the to­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­text so that you are bet­ter able to un­der­stand the speaker’s point of view. His body lan­guage, in­clu­sive of his fa­cial ex­pres­sions, body pos­ture, eye con­tact, mo­men­tary si­lence and vo­cal cues, all al­low you to ob­tain some in-depth in­for­ma­tion from the per­son be­hind the voice.


As a lis­tener you are in­evitably in­flu­enced by your past ex­pe­ri­ences, at­ti­tudes, value sys­tem and pre­dis­po­si­tions.

Un­der­stand­ing the prin­ci­ples of logic and rea­son­ing, and recog­nis­ing bias, stereo­typ­ing, pro­pa­ganda and other fac­tors that may af­fect the con­clu­sions you draw, are also es­sen­tial.

Ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ers de­lib­er­ately sup­press their own opin­ions un­til they have first un­der­stood the speaker’s ideas. This is the pre­req­ui­site to mak­ing a fair and proper eval­u­a­tion.


Ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ers an­a­lyse the com­mu­ni­ca­tion sit­u­a­tion and pur­pose, and then de­cide their own stand be­fore mak­ing the next move.

While the stim­u­lus pro­vided by the speaker is the same, re­sponses from the au­di­ence can dif­fer.

Lis­ten to the speech sig­nals

A speaker of­ten uses sig­nal words to in­di­cate where he is or where the lis­ten­ers are.

The com­mon sig­nal words are given in the ta­ble above. n Yong Ah Yong is a lec­turer at UTAR (Perak).

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