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Listening Is A Cinderella Of Relationship – Causes Of Poor Listening
Listening well is just as powerful a means of communication and influence as speaking well. – John Marshall.
Listening is an indicator of openness of mind. It prepares the ground for understanding and solving issues. Listening helps one gather and take in a wide variety of information. A careful listener has the influence of enlisting the cooperation of all who are part of the problem. No knowledge is added when one speaks, but listening adds new knowledge. Listening touches hearts. A listener is part of solution, and never part of problem. Words have no meaning, but people do, which can only be understood if one listens. A spiritual maxim “A wise man who listens to a fool will learn more than a fool who listens to a wise man” clearly explains the importance of listening. Providing a person with two ears and one mouth symbolically declares the importance of listening as double that of speaking.
The average time spent listening is 53% while it is spent writing, speaking and reading together 47%. Ironically, all the training programs are usually focused on the latter and almost little on the former, although it is critical and occupies a large part of communication.
The importance of listening in organizational communication
While listening is very important for interpersonal relationships or social life, it is more important for everyone who manages the organization while pursuing its goals. Organizations run not only on the tracks of information with all diverse dimensions, but also on the emotions and non-rational human angles. Comprehension of the full range of information and proper treatment of human expectations is possible with only the best listening. One will learn the best listening skills only when he is convinced of the importance of listening. Now a discussion is attempted about the importance of listening.
Meenakshi Raman and Prakash Singh (2006, pp.90-91) summarized the benefits of listening for the leaders and teams.
a) Listening helps to know the organization.
b) Listening helps to make better policy.
c) Listening mitigates complaining employees.
d) Listening is important for the success of the open door policy.
e) Listening helps to spot sensitive areas before they become explosive.
f) Listening forms a bond of respect.
g) It increases accuracy, confidence and productivity.
h) Innovative solutions developed by listening.
Listening helps one to get fairly complete information, which is not the case with poor listening. Poor listening acts like a piece of cloth with many holes in it. A problem with more than one dimension can only be sorted out when the information about all the dimensions of the problem is taken. Full understanding of a problem is only one step from solving it. Listening is a tool for understanding. and identify the missing links of the problem. A solution based on half information will either not work or may not last longer.
Listening helps to plan for the future and formulate better policies. Listening gives clarity and precision about the problem and also gives confidence to those involved. Try this technique of attentive listening on all unresolved issues and see the difference. Listen to all points and all parties to the problem and you will see the solution immediately.
The listener can pick up clues about future problems from the way the presenters gesture or express their thoughts. A discerning listener not only gets complete information about the current problem, but also enough signals about the future problems. Due to full understanding of issues, efforts to solve problems can be launched long before the problem becomes too intractable if one listens properly.
Listening gives non-verbal clues about the speaker’s original intent of the message. An attentive listener makes out the real and complete meaning of what the speaker is communicating. The speaker’s tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, etc., which the listener can easily read, will either fully confirm or contradict what the former says verbally. This is why people would travel thousands of miles to communicate in face-to-face situation, although the same can be done on phone or fax or video conference. In the face-to-face communication where complete attentive listening is possible, not only is there a full understanding of the problem, but the attitude of the parties on the issue is also known to each other.
Listening establishes bonds of trust and respect. Problems and their solutions depend a lot not only on facts of pure facts, but also non-factual dimensions such as emotions, respect, affection, etc. Listening dissolves the defensiveness of the other party. Active listening builds respect in the other party and can raise doubts. Listening makes complaining employees retrospective and soft on the issue and listener. Listening in a way reduces tension. Even when no solution is found, the listeners sympathize as they see that everything that needs to be done has been done. In addition, listening motivates the speakers to say good things and take immediate actions based on what the listener has suggested.
Causes of poor listening
There are many and varied reasons for poor listening besides a lack of awareness that listening is important.
Dan Bobinski, (Seven Deadly Sins of Not Listening http://www.hodu.com/not-listening.shtml) has listed seven deadly sins that lead to poor listening. Filtering, second-guessing, discounting, relating, rehearsing, predicting, and calming down contribute to poor listening. Filtering refers to the listener’s acceptance of what is palatable and rejection of what does not suit him. Second guessing is to look out for ulterior motives. Discounts are born out of disrespect for the speaker and mockery of the content. Relating is imbibing that has references to the listener’s experience or background and dismisses the rest as useless. Practicing is thinking about what to say when the speaker has finished his point. Prediction is thinking far ahead about an idea given by the speaker. Placing is agreeing with what everyone else is saying to avoid conflict, which results in missing understanding.
Similarly, prof. Mathukutty (2001, pp.68-72) identified nine contributors to poor listening. They are
1) inadequate language use
2) difficult physical conditions such as external disturbances
3) non-serious listening
4) lack of interest
5) antipathy towards speaker
6) over-enthusiasm for speaker
7) lack of self-confidence
9) strong beliefs about the subject
Prof. Asha Kaul mentioned eight deterrents for listening process. Lack of interest, ego, preoccupation with self, shift between past and present, fear, preconceived notions, sense of already knowing (familiarity trap) and stress.
We will discuss the most prominent reasons for poor listening in the following paragraphs.
Mismatch between speed of thought and speed of speech: A mind (of any human while listening) can process 400 words per minute, while a human can speak only about 125 words. During this free time gap available to the listener’s mind, it wanders off to other topics as it has idle capacity and is distracted from the speaker’s topic. This is one of the reasons why the mind quickly wanders from one subject to another.
Lack of awareness: Although various and numerous training programs are conducted for reading, writing and speaking, no training program is ever conducted for listening, which on average accounts for more than reading, writing and speaking combined in total communication time.
Misconception that others expect you to solve their problems: It is a mistaken belief that others will only talk to us in anticipation of some contribution and ask us to solve their problem. But a few may ask for help, but the majority want to share their feelings, performance, grief, information, etc. Share. It is better to listen with an open mind than to turn a deaf ear.
Installing filters: Communication comes from different angles with different types of input. An individual does not have the capacity to absorb everything, nor is it useful to take everything that comes. Therefore, an individual naturally sets up filters in his mind to pay attention to some and ignore some by sifting the information that comes. In the process of disregarding the supposedly useless matter, he may also listen to some useful information.
Second, the filter takes a different form when the listener thinks he knows the subject and has nothing left to learn from the speaker. This condition is known as closed mind. Also in this state the listener does not get what is being communicated. In such a situation, he will only use his mind to form criticism or deny the speaker’s opinions or formulate his argument in opposition to that of the speaker. This is how he misses the point.
Third, the speaker may already have an opinion about the speaker. This condition is known as premature evaluation. If it is a negative opinion, he will close his mind and miss the point. If he has a highly positive opinion, he may show over-enthusiasm to confirm his impression and thus may miss the point.
Fourth, some individuals have a low opinion of themselves and take any input as an attack on their weaknesses. They would not allow the information to come and stay busy defending themselves.
Distraction: The listener is distracted from the topic due to external disturbances, poor public address systems, disinterested fellow audience, etc. Certain personal factors such as disturbing situation in the family, etc. will also distract the listener. All these distractions are attributed to ‘noise’ around the listener.
Lack of interest: If the listener has no interest in the subject or the speaker, he cannot listen.
Inadequate language: The inadequate language of either the speaker or the listener will hinder the listening process. The language of the speaker must match that of the listener.
Bad listening habits: Listener does not get the point of the speaker because of his poor listening habits. These habits also form barriers to listening. If the barriers to listening, some of which have been discussed in the preceding, are person-specific and if an individual practices them continuously, they become habits. A brief mention of them is made here.
1) Labeling the topic as uninteresting just by knowing the title of the topic drives a person away from the important points.
2) If the delivery is found to be poor, one may conclude that the subject is not worthy of listening.
3) If one gets overstimulated and angry about one or a few unpleasant points, he will miss the rest of the subject.
4) Some persons concentrate only on facts and not the principles underlying such facts.
5) One habit of listening is to look for logical order in the presentation. But some speakers do not seem to be in order, although they make strong points, which may be missed if one is too concerned with order.
6) Some individuals pretend to be paying attention, although their minds are elsewhere and thus miss the points.
7) Some listeners tend to create or tolerate distractions, which will not allow him to get the intention.
8) Some persons try to follow the easy points and avoid the difficult ones, which can actually connect the whole.
9) The attitude of criticizing the speaker or his delivery hinders listening and understanding.
10) Some people wait to catch and attack the speaker when the speaker’s views conflict with those of the listeners.
11) Another similar habit is that some people are rehearsing what they have to say without listening to what is being communicated by the speaker.
All of the above barriers occur in the stages of the listening process. Familiarity with the stages of listening and the associated pitfalls will help one overcome them while listening.
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