Are you a good listener?

Published January 21, 2023
Illustration by Sumbul
Illustration by Sumbul

The teacher finished her lesson and turned to the class to see if they had any questions. As soon as she turned, a couple of hands shot up.

The teacher was pleased, thinking the questions would show the students’ critical thinking, and answering them would help her further elaborate her topic. However, she was disappointed as the students had missed certain points and simply wanted her to repeat them. Clearly, they had not been listening to what the teacher was saying, though they claimed they had been listening.

What went wrong? It was not that they were dumb and could not follow the simple lesson. It was because they were not paying proper attention. They were in the class, but their minds were elsewhere. So while they could hear what the teacher was saying, they could not register and retain it. They could hear but were not listening.

So, what is the difference between hearing and listening?

Hearing is defined as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound,” and is an automatic brain response to sound, while listening means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give it consideration.” Listening is purposeful and focused attention, and requires motivation and effort.

We hear a lot of things that people say around us, but we don’t always pay attention to them — they are just sounds that enter our ears without leaving any impact, and so we usually forget them. But when we listen or pay attention to what is being said, we retain it and can respond or recall it later on.

You see, when you want to grasp what you are being taught, you have to make a conscious effort to pay attention and think about and mentally process what you hear. It is not a passive activity, as it is often thought to be, where one only has to sit back and let the speaker say what is in their mind.

We find it difficult to listen or pay attention, usually because we are distracted by many thoughts floating through our minds at the same time, or we may be thinking of or doing something else. Sometimes not paying attention or listening carefully can land you in trouble. For instance, the teacher may ask you to prepare a topic for a test and if you are not paying attention, you might not register exactly which topic she specified, and thus not prepare for the test.

When you are in class, it is important to focus on what the teacher is saying and not think about anything else, so that you retain it and recall it later. This is one quality that immensely helps high achievers. You must have friends in class who claim not to devote as many hours to studies as you do, but still get better grades. They are likely to be good at paying attention, not just in the class, but also when studying at home.

Some children try to study while sitting in the TV lounge while others are watching the TV, or they keep checking their phones every now and then. This is very distracting. A universal truth is that you must stay away from all distractions, as they stop you from focusing on what you are doing.

To be able to listen and understand what is being taught in class, you have to set your mind to studies. Of course, it doesn’t come naturally, you have to make a conscious effort to focus. If you have made up your mind that you have to learn, you will succeed in doing so.

For some, choosing to sit in the front rows of the class and making eye contact with a teacher makes a difference and they are better able to concentrate. However, it does not mean that if you are sitting somewhere at the back of the class, you cannot pay attention — you can, only if you don’t talk and don’t look around.

If the subject being taught is difficult to understand or is too dry, don’t give up and stop listening. In such a situation, you have to listen even more carefully and work harder to understand what is being said. If you fail to understand something, don’t hesitate to ask questions or ask your teacher to repeat it.

One more important thing to note here is to remember that everything is not meant to suit you. If the classroom is too hot, too cold, too bright, or too dark for your liking, don’t feel intimidated. Try to ignore your surroundings and stay focused on learning.

And remember, listening is not only needed while at school or for studies, it comes in handy in all walks of life and at every stage.

Have you ever had a friend or a younger sibling comes to you with a problem seeking your advice? What did you do in this situation? Of course, you first listen to the problem, try to understand the situation and then give appropriate advice. If you do not listen carefully, you will not understand the problem and come up with the right advice. To understand the problem, it is important to listen carefully; stop whatever you were doing and pay undivided attention to your friend; if he/she has a serious problem, they may be emotionally distressed. Put your phone or any other devise you were using aside, switch off the TV, and focus on what is being said. Be serious and don’t make a joke of it; show some empathy. They have come to you to find a solution, not listen to jokes.

Similarly, when you grow up and are working, you will need to be attentive to what others say to be able to do your work. If you are distracted by your phone or some random thoughts during an official briefing or meeting, you will not be able to follow the discussion and come up to the expectations of your boss and colleagues.

Here are some benefits of attentive listening.

You become a better friend

When you pay attention to people expressing thoughts and experiences that are important to them, they are likely to see you as someone who cares about them. While it is important to pay attention, refrain from interrupting, giving your opinion and advice until sought, and passing judgment.

People will see you as intelligent and perceptive

When you listen to others, they take you as someone who is curious and interested in people and what is going on around you. This, combined with your ability to understand what you hear, will make you a more knowledgeable and thoughtful person.

Listening can help your public speaking ability

When you listen to others, you begin to pick up useful things about others, such as how people form arguments and present information. As a result, you develop the ability to analyse what you think has effect or not, which can help you transform your argument in the process. For example, really paying attention to how others cite sources orally during their speeches may give you ideas on how to effectively cite sources in your presentation.

It is said that children who are good listeners are successful in speaking, socialising and communicating with others, which can build trust and respect among peers. So, make an effort and improve your listening ability!

Published in Dawn, Young World, January 21st, 2023

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