Language is learnt primarily to facilitate better communication among people. However, those learning a second language may often lose sight of this fundamental reason, and may begin to focus excessively on the nuances of grammar and vocabulary, and lose focus of the point they are trying to get across.
No doubt, you cannot really get by with incorrect (and therefore perplexing) grammar. Nor can you survive with a smattering of words at your command. But merely acing grammar and maximizing word power are not the mark of good communication – examples that prove this are legion. Often teachers of English themselves do not express themselves adequately outside the classroom. People do not understand what they mean and that creates confusion. So what is it that really constitutes good communication?
Communication consists of not only speaking and writing, but also to their respective responses i.e. listening and reading. Often considered passive skills, both reading and listening are underrated and under-analyzed. Listening, especially, is the most ignored aspect of communication. Listening does not mean complete understanding, or comprehension; it means that the speaker's words have registered as meaningful sound. Listening is also to be distinguished from hearing, wherein you only know that there is a sound. Listening lies between understanding and hearing. Listening may further be classified as reactive listening and responsive listening.
A reaction is like a reflex, it is that automatic and unintelligent. We do not pause to reflect on the tone, the mood, the context of the words uttered by the speaker. If it is something that, in the past, has been unpleasant to hear, then we react negatively (e.g. "I like your teaching methods" might evoke an insecure "Oh really!!", because in the past, someone severely criticized your teaching methods by starting off with just those words.). This means that our prejudices kick in a reflex and we totally shut off the speaker. Reactive listening is thus counterproductive – it does not encourage effective communication. There can be no real exchange of ideas and it can sabotage careers and relationships.
A better thing to do is to respond – to allow the spoken word to sink in before we begin our analyzing and judging. We hear the person out patiently, and evaluate their statements on their own merit, rather than allowing our past prejudices to interfere at this stage. (At the final decision making stage, of course, one would use the benefit of previous experience). Responsive listening is required in the professional and personal environments. One has to be genuinely interested in the give and take of ideas. Only then is one receptive to new proposals and ideas. Do not give in to the temptation to show off what you know or to insist on 'my way or the highway'. Only then, our well considered responses truly add to the original statement and to the business at hand. A responsive listener is welcomed in the professional world-people will want to repeat business with you. Personally also, your friends will gravitate towards you because you listen – not only to what's said, but also to what's 'meant'.
Do allow yourself to be dictated by common-sense and sensitivity. The speaker may not have command of the language he uses. Your listening skills must factor this in. the speaker, in the throes of an emotion, may use words he does not really mean. Your sensitivity to his mood will help you understand what he truly means. It will also help you make the right responses that diffuse tensions and foster positivity.
Watch yourself regularly. Are you a good listener? Is your mind with the speaker as he pours his heart out or are you thinking about the stock market? Do your face and body language suggest that you care? Are you interrupting him with your eager solutions?
Intelligent, responsive listening happens when you respect the speaker enough to give him a patient hearing, take the time to evaluate all aspects of the communication and then have step in with your wonderful word power.