The International Listening Association, cited by Hybels and Weaver (2001:64), defines listening as “the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or non-verbal messages”. Listening goes beyond being an important communication skill, it is a way of life. Most of our conscious and unconscious communication efforts are geared toward listening. A research reveals that listening takes 53% of our communication activities, reading 17%, while speaking and writing constitute 16% and 14% respectively (Hybels and Weaver, 2001:70).

However, this statistics notwithstanding, it is rather pathetic that most people have a poor listening habit. They listen without really listening. Lamenting on this anomaly, Benson (1977:155) says:

“The art of listening is an essential but oft overlooked element of good communication. Genuine listening has become one of the endangered species. God gave each of us two ears and one mouth – perhaps he intended that we use them proportionally.”

The tendency common to most people is to ‘egospeak’, a term which communication experts coined to describe people’s desire to listen to themselves more than anyone else:

“Egospeak is thinking of what you’re going to say next while another person is trying to talk to you. Jumping in before, or on, the other person’s last word. Constantly trying to top the other person’s story” (Benson, 1977:155).

In similar vein, Beck et al (2002:12) distinguish between hearing (which is what most people really do) and listening. They note that:

“It is useful to make a distinction between hearing and listening. Most people can hear, in that they can receive and distinguish sound within a specific frequency range. Hearing, however, is a passive activity. It is something that happens to us, rather than something that we do. On the other hand, listening is active… ‘People hear but do not listen’. In a class or lecture, it is very likely you will hear the words being spoken. You may not necessarily listen to them.”

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