Is Your Listening Set to ‘Receive’ or ‘Transmit’?

Is your listening set to ‘Receive’ or ‘Transmit’? That was the question asked by BBC radio host Nihal Arthanayake at a St Mary’s University’s graduation ceremony at Westminster Cathedral I attended recently. It made me sit up and think (Guiltily.) When listening, are we really trying to understand what the speaker is saying – or just waiting for an opportunity to bang on about what We want to say? 

In PR it’s the nature of the job to be permanently programmed to transmit. Listening to fully understand – as opposed to just being a pretext to say something else – is not only uncommon, it’s actually bloody hard. 

No one likes to talk with someone who cares only about what they have to say. That’s why, to become a good communicator – a good PR in fact – you also need to shut up and listen.  

This means not interrupting others when they’re talking, or talking over them, or jumping to conclusions. If you do this – or have to continually ask people to repeat themselves – chances are you have work to do on improving the ‘listening to receive’ front.  

 So often poor communication arises from poor listening. If you don’t listen to others actively it’s so easy to misunderstand. But when actively listening to someone your total concentration stays in the conversation, improving understanding and helping to keep an open mind, thereby reducing judgmental thinking.   

 In all my years as a journalist I always found that CEOs were the most enjoyable people to interview. They weren’t always the smartest in the companies they led, but invariably they were all brilliant communicators, empathetic and invariably great listeners.They understood that for people to feel respected, they had to believe they were important enough to be listened to.  

Good listening is not just about our ears – maintaining eye contact with the speaker is also important. Not in an off-putting maniacal way, so keep it natural. It shows you are giving your undivided attention and trying to understand. As a result, the speaker will feel appreciated for their efforts, and it gives a non-verbal indication that you are interested. (So – no checking your phone.) Of course, being a good listener doesn’t mean you need to sit mutely. If you don’t get something you can ask questions. But don’t but in. Wait for a pause in their speech and then ask your question.  

Becoming a listener set to ‘Receive’ is not easy, and most of us can improve. It’s definitely worth the effort though, as being a good listener can, ironically, make us better communicators when we return to our default ‘Transmit’ setting.