Stages of Listening

Probably the simplest way to start thinking about listening is to break down the process into stages. In practice, no one would keep strictly to these stages, but reflecting on them should improve a person’s listening skills.


Step 1

The first step is to open yourself to the 'incoming message', to let down your defences as far as possible, and try to sense the real, underlying meaning of what is being said. Listen for ideas, implications and feelings as well as the facts. As well as being able to hear, you must also want to, or at least be willing to, listen. The more serious the conflict, the greater your resistance will be to this step. Taking brief notes may help to focus your attention; but it can also distract you. If in doubt, don't.


Step 2

The second step is to begin to interpret, or reconstruct, what is being said, remembering always that words have different meanings to different people. Keep asking yourself whether or not you understand the message. Do your best to listen with full attention, and withhold judgement and criticism at this stage. Don't jump to conclusions before the story is complete.


Step 3

The third step is to evaluate what is being said, only after you have made a reasonably objective interpretation of the message. At this point you should reflect on the information and options being presented, and sift the evidence. Unfortunately, judging often starts far too early in the listening process, especially when the topic has emotional implications or when there has been a long history of painful conflict. Unskilled listeners close their ears to words they do not want to hear.


Step 4

The fourth stage is responding. Here you demonstrate that you have truly been listening. Reassuring the speaker that you have been giving him full attention is a critical aspect of constructive listening. Feedback is usually given by asking for clarification or for more information, or at least giving some visible acknowledgment by smiling or frowning. This responding or reacting stage will have a major influence on the negotiating process.

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