Listening in Business - Part 2

By Chris Chittenden

This is part of a series of articles - see previous article.

One of the basic claims of the body of work we employ is that human beings live in a world of interpretation. We are always making sense of what we observe or the events that affect us. In essence, this is the process of listening - hearing and interpretation.

In our recent article on listening, we spoke about distinctions - how we distinguish phenomena from the background - and the importance of speaking to the distinctions of others if we wish to communicate effectively. In the process of interpretation, we take what we have distinguished and make meaning from it. We do this on the basis of our preferences and prejudices - what we like and dislike. We have developed these preferences and prejudices through our life time and they have come from the experiences of the culture into which we are born, our social environments, our family environment and our personal experiences. Every experience in our life has helped to shape our preferences and prejudices and they provide us with a coherence about our life.

During that process of interpretation, we test what we have heard against our preferences and prejudices and we also make assessments about what possibilities for us the speaker might be opening up or closing down. Once again those possibilities form part of our coherence about life. How we see our future.

One aspect of our listening is that it is with us all the time. Before we even begin to hear someone speak to us, we are already listening to them based on our past experience. If we are speaking with someone with whom we already have a relationship, all of our past experiences of that person will shape how we listen to what they say. If we are speaking with someone with whom we do not have a relationship, we will form an opinion of them almost immediately and certainly before we have heard what they have to say.

What we are saying is that people are listening to you before you say anything. There will be an expectation of you based on the listener's preferences, prejudices and the possibilities they hold about the future . People will be listening you from within that frame of reference and it will colour what they hear.

Listening is an active process. If we wish to communicate effectively with others we need to speak to them in the way in which they will listen. Therefore it is of paramount importance to know and understand your audience.

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© 1999 Chris Chittenden