Communication is defined as a process whereby information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviors. Human communication is the process of making sense out of the world and sharing that sense with others. The process involves three components: verbal, non-verbal, and symbolic.
Verbal communications are the primary communication skills taught in the formal education system and include such things as reading, writing, computer skills, e-mail, talking on the phone, writing memos, and speaking to others. Non-verbal communications are those messages expressed by other than verbal means. Non-verbal communications are also known as body language and include facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, tone of voice, smell, and other communications perceived by our senses. We cannot not communicate and even when we don't speak, our non-verbal communications convey a message. Symbolic communications are demonstrated by the cars we drive, the houses we live in, and the clothes we wear (e.g. uniforms, police, military). The most important aspects of symbolic communication are the words we use.
Words, in fact, have no meaning; rather we attach meaning to them through our own interpretation. Therefore our life experience, belief system, or perceptual framework determines how we hear the words. Rudyard Kipling wrote, "Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by Mankind." In other words, we hear what we expect to hear based on our interpretation of what the words mean.
According to social scientists, verbal communication skills account for 7% of the communication process. The other 93% consist of nonverbal and symbolic communication and are called 'listening skills.' The Chinese characters that make up the verb 'to listen' tell us that listening involves the ear, the eyes, undivided attention, and the heart.
Listening is described in numerous studies as the most prominent kind of communication. It has been identified as one of the most frequent problems in marriage, one of the most important in family and social settings, and one of the most important on-the-job communication skills. Often people think that because they can hear, listening is a natural ability. It is not. Listening effectively requires considerable skill and practice and is a learned skill. Listening skills have been described as either 'listening with our hearts' or 'hearing between the words.'
Listening is a process that consists of five elements: hearing, attending, understanding, responding, and remembering. Hearing is the physiological dimension of listening that occurs when sound waves strike the ear at a certain frequency and loudness and is influenced by background noise. Attending is the process of filtering out some messages and focusing on others. Understanding occurs when we make sense of a message. Responding consists of giving observable feedback to the speaker such as eye contact and appropriate facial expressions. Remembering is the ability to recall information. Listening isn't just a passive activity; we are active participants in a communication transaction.
Practical Steps For More Effective Listening