All about Hearing, Listening and Communicating

We are all familiar with the power words hold. Saying the right thing, or, more importantly, not saying the wrong thing, can help us immensely in our daily life.

Our words can help cultivate a more inclusive environment, or they can be vehicles of pain, hurt, and prejudice. Understanding how we communicate is thus vital in seeing how it encourages (or hinders) diversity.

Let’s learn more about the different facets of communicating.

Listening and Hearing: They aren’t the same thing

Listening and hearing are two words we use interchangeably—but did you know that they’re actually very different? 

Hearing refers to the act of perceiving sound by the ear; hence, it immediately happens for individuals who are not hearing-impaired. In contrast, listening is an active decision—it’s a conscious action, which requires concentration to allow the brain to process the meaning of the words it hears.

Refining our listening skills

Since listening is an action, listening skills are something you can learn and refine. Active listening allows you to discern among the many dimensions of communication that compose a message, such as: 

  • What does the length of the message tell me about its importance?
  • How is the message being made?
  • What clues do the loudness and speed of speaking give me?
  • How do pauses and hesitations enhance or detract from the message?
  • What do eye contact, posture, or facial expressions tell me that perhaps words do not?
  • What is the reason the person is communicating with me now?

By answering these questions, we can better understand the message the other person is trying to convey to us. However, effective listening can be constrained by factors such as message content, the appeal of the speaker, external distractions, and other factors. We must learn to filter these out, then, in order to listen well.

Understanding Effective Communication

Communication, meanwhile, is actively hindered by cultural and language differences. For instance, some cultural groups prefer in-person meetings more than other groups. Language barriers also pose a threat to communication.

Having interpreters greatly helps in mitigating the difficulty in communicating within diverse, multi-racial groups. This allows participants to stay focused on understanding the messages, instead of struggling to understand each other’s language.

Learning how to ask the right questions

Still, ideas can get lost in translation, which is why it’s important to learn how to ask the right questions in a diverse workplace environment. Good question-asking skills help you ensure that the message you receive is accurate and complete.

There are three kinds of questions that active listeners can use to obtain more information:

1. Open questions 

These stimulate thinking as well as discussion of opinions and feelings, through posing a question that can be answered in different ways.
Example: What are our benchmarks for improving our diversity training?

2. Clarifying questions 

These help to remove ambiguity, while eliciting additional details, and guiding the answer to a question.

Example: I’m not sure I understood that correctly. How will we deliver online training?

3. Closed questions

These are usually yes or no questions, which effectively shut off the discussion with one-word answers.

Example: Do we have a diversity program at our company?

Communicating with power

It’s been said that you have between thirty seconds and two minutes to capture your participants’ attention.  In a diverse cultural work environment, this time frame is even more challenging.

Effective communication isn’t just governed by words; certain subtleties in the way you speak also dictate how your message will be received by other people. In fact, 38% of a particular message received by your listener depends on your voice alone. The pitch, volume, and control of your voice all contribute towards how well your message will be received and perceived by your audience.

Your actions are also key to connecting with your audience better. Making clear eye contact, speaking clearly and a bit slowly, adding facial expressions, using short words and sentences… all these contribute towards more effective communication with your peers, especially with non-native English speakers.

Note: This post is excerpted from DrCherry Collier’s “The Science and Art of Breaking Down the Barriers and Bias in Diversity” available here.

Dr. Cherry

Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D. is an Organizational Psychologist, Strategist, Executive Coach, and Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Consultant for Personality Matters, Inc. Her science-based approach and brain-based techniques, propel people, teams, and organizations to build bridges and work from the inside out to achieve their goals. Dr. Cherry specializes in emotional intelligence, neuroscience, leadership development, and DEI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She received her Doctorate and Master of Science in Applied Social/Organizational Psychology from the University of Georgia and Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College. She is the author of more than twenty-five Human Behavior related books for leaders, executives, and coaches. Dr. Cherry is often called the DEI Whisperer because she has a unique ability to fiercely “hold the space” and be totally present which creates a psychologically safe environment that allows others all the space they need to fully express themselves. She listens to others with head, heart and hands approach so that they are heard, seen and understood.