Mastering the skill of listening

Mastering the skill of listening

People talk, but do they really listen? In your quest to be a good mentor, good communications skills are a must.

In order to become a great coach and mentor we need to hone our communication skills and, therefore, must explore the possible barriers to effective communication. There are two basic barriers preventing good communication: “perception” and “noise”.

People’s perceptions differ due to a number of factors: past experiences, personal preferences, interest, individual needs, education, environment and first language. As a result, two people communicating will do so from their own unique, individual perspectives.

This form of communication breakdown occurs when the sender assumes that the perception of the receiver is identical to their own. Misunderstanding and confusion result. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance for the sender to acknowledge that everyone has a different perspective and to put themself in the shoes of the receiver before initiating communication.

Another barrier to avoid is that of “noise”. Noise can be either physical or psychological (inside the mind) in nature. Examples of noise are interruptions, loud equipment, a stuffy atmosphere and other distractions such as writing, speaking, misspelling, typographical errors, ambiguous sentences, bad pronunciation and even a sloppy appearance. These are all classified noise barriers.

Bear the following in mind when coaching or mentoring someone and avoid being guilty of these nonverbal codes:

Space or proximity: Do not invade the person’s space bubble.

Facial expression: This reveals so much of what the sender is feeling. There are six recognisable expressions that appear to cross all cultures: happiness, fear, anger, sadness, disgust and surprise.

Gaze: Looking into someone’s eyes means you are engaging them in conversation, while avoiding eye contact indicates an unwillingness to talk. Maintaining eye contact shows you are listening and giving the sender your full attention.

Physical appearance: Your clothes and the way you wear them communicates your personality, culture, status and occupation.

Movement: Moving your head or limbs can indicate your willingness to communicate or ignore the other person.

Voice: Not the actual words you use, but the way in which the words are spoken (tone of voice) can convey frustration, depression, tiredness, sarcasm and sincerity. Pay special attention to the way you use your voice.

Listening: This is the most important part of any communication. It is important to remember that communication is a two-way process and the main reason for poor communication, or no communication at all, is the listener not listening. One needs to consciously pay attention to the person speaking.

What prevents us from being a good listener?

• Multi tasking; we try packing too much into our days and thus have little time to pay attention and listen to anyone.

• Information overload; being exposed to so much detail, knowledge and information makes it difficult to absorb anything else. We, therefore, switch off when hearing someone speak as our mind tries to rest, resulting in us not listening.

• Tuning out; when we don’t like what we are hearing, we tend to stop listening or change the subject.

• Tiredness; listening requires energy. Sometimes we are just so tired that we merely stop listening.

• Mental distractions; if we don’t work on giving someone our full attention our minds wander.

Questioning: This is as important as listening. Asking questions builds understanding, promotes a higher level of thinking, encourages others to speak, collects information, finds possible solutions and builds trust.

Ask open-ended questions that will provide additional information to allow for greater understanding of the situation and, thus, continue the conversation.

In the next article we will explore mentoring.


Jannie Koegelenberg is passionate about promoting positive customer experiences. He runs the EDGE Training Consultancy, a leading provider of world-class training and development programmes that meaningfully change and impact on people’s lives. He has a 38-year track record in the motor industry, having worked at Mercedes-Benz distributor United Cars and Diesel Distributors, Ford Motor Company SA and Toyota SA Marketing.

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