We were given two ears but only one mouth. This is because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking (Canadian Association of Student Activity Advisors [CASAA]). People are not born good listeners. To become good listeners people need to practice and acquire skills. Information is an intangible substance that must be sent by the speaker and received by an active listener. When received by an active listener, information is understood thus then we can say that information is truly received. There is more to listening than gazing politely at a speaker and nodding your head from time to time. All of us know how frustrating it is not being listened to but unfortunately all of us are guilty of not listening to others at times. It is important to know how to speak but it is only half of what makes a good communicator, the other half is listening. Thus we can say that listening is vital to maintain and strengthen communication with others.

1.0 The importance of listening

Listening is an extremely important communication activity. Studies have shown that listening is the most frequently used communication skill. Paul Rankin, as far back as 1926, found that adults spent 70% of their time while awake communicating, of which 45% is spent listening, while the rest is divided between writing, reading and speaking. A more recent survey by Barker et al. (1981) suggests that listening is more important nowadays due to mass media. (Fig.1)

Fig.1; Types of communication activities

In most studies about communication oral skills result as important, listening skills result as being either of equal or of greater importance. Good communicators have to be good listeners as much as they are good speakers.

1.1 Importance of listening vs. training given in listening

Even though listening is a very important skill, very little training is provided by the educational system. Ralph Nichols and L. A. Stevens (1957) found that in schools more time is spent teaching those skills that are used least while listening which is the most frequently used skill is hardly not taught at all.

1.2 Rating of oneself on listening

One easily recognizes when one is not understood or when one is not listened to but it is difficult for one to realize when one was a poor listener. I myself could point out numerous occasions where I felt I was not being listened to by referring even to the strongest relationships I have. It is not the first time that I feel that my own parents are not listening to me yet I also frequently insist on the untruth of a statement like “You are not listening to me” if it comes from them even if most probably it is true. Judi Brownwell (1990) asked a group of managers to rate their listening skills. In her study there was not even one manager who rated himself or herself as a ‘poor’ listener while 94% of them rated themselves as being a ‘good’ or a ‘very good’ listener. These results contrasted the perceptions of the subordinates many of whom said that their manager’s listening skills were considerably weak. Some poor listening is inevitable but through training listening skills can be improved substantially.

2.0 The Challenge of Listening

Many people believe that by hearing a person’s message they are listening to a person’s message. It is not the first time that I came out of a lecture, during which I thought I was attentive, not remembering anything that had been said during the last hour. Studies showed that only 12% of the whole class is actively listening. Good listening is not that simple, listening is a challenge that can be met only by those people who do not hold on to the popular misconceptions as being true. Adler, Rosenfeld and Towne (1995) point out three of these misconceptions, which are; listening is hearing, listening is easy and all listeners receive the same message.

2.1 Listening is not hearing

The process of hearing includes sound waves striking the eardrum and causing vibrations that are transmitted to the brain. Listening is the process wherein the brain reconstructs these electromagnetic impulses into a representation of the original sound and then gives them a meaning (Alder, Rosenfeld and Towne 1995). However, the process of listening is not automatic and there