Effective Listening Skills

See also: Top Tips for Effective Listening

It is generally agreed that listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing is, of course, an essential part of listening. However, listening goes beyond simply hearing, and is described as an active process of taking in information, remembering and interpreting it, and then acting on it.

We can define effective listening as a process by which information is heard, understood, interpreted and then acted upon—in a way that matches the speaker’s intent. In other words, for listening to be effective, it must deliver the result that the speaker intended.

This page describes one model of effective listening, the HURIER model. This may be a useful way of thinking about all the steps involved in effective listening.

The HURIER model of Effective Listening

We all accept that listening goes far beyond simply hearing. However, what do we really mean by effective listening, and what does it include?

The acronym HURIER is sometimes used in academic texts to summarise a model of effective listening skills. This model was developed by Judi Brownell of Cornell University.

The model describes seven areas that are part of effective listening:

H – Hearing

‘Hearing’ is used here in a very broad sense to describe how you take in information when someone speaks.

This may include both visual and auditory information, and even touch.

Hearing therefore covers the physical act of hearing, using your ears. However, it also includes visual information, such as how you detect and pick up on non-verbal and other signals, including tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. People may also use touch as a way to emphasise particularly important points. This is especially true in close personal relationships.

You can find out more about these aspects of communication in our pages on Active Listening, and Non-Verbal Communication, which includes both Body Language, and the use of Face and Voice.

U – Understanding

Once the message has been ‘heard’, the next step is to understand.

This means bringing together all the information that you have gathered from the element of ‘hearing’ to create a coherent understanding of what was communicated.

Factors like language and accent may affect your understanding—and this goes far beyond the factor of whether you share a native language. For example, a particular choice of words may convey very different information to people brought up in different areas, or at different times. The use of cultural references such as children’s television can also create a common language that allows people to communicate in ways that go beyond the words chosen.

It is therefore always worth checking back with the speaker to ensure that you have understood their message correctly. Techniques such as clarifying, questioning and reflecting are all ways to ensure that you have understood correctly, as well as showing that you have been listening.

You may also find our page on Intercultural Communication is helpful in avoiding problems with understanding when communicating with people from different cultures.

R – Remembering

An effective listener needs to be able to remember the message they are receiving in its entirety.

It is no good listening and then instantly forgetting what you have heard and understood. You have to be able to retain and use the information.

Remembering requires focus, and is a skill in itself. Experts suggest that you may retain information in either your short-term or long-term memory. However, these two types of memory often have little to do with time. Instead, short-term memory is where you keep information while you are using it. It is often known as ‘working memory’. Long-term memory is where you store information that you think is worth keeping. Remembering information to which you have listened is therefore a matter of using both short- and long-term memory.

There is more about this in our page on Memory Skills.

I – Interpreting

The next step in the process of listening is interpreting the message.

This builds on, and enhances, understanding. Interpretation means considering factors such as the context in which the message was sent or received, including any biases of the speaker that may affect the meaning and purpose.

Importantly, the listener also needs to be aware of, and avoid, any preconceptions or biases of their own that may affect how they interpret the message.

As with developing understanding, it is important to understand any cultural and intercultural issues that may affect both the ‘coding’ of the message and your interpretation of it. Our pages on Intercultural Communication and Intercultural Awareness may be helpful in developing this process.

E – Evaluating

Evaluating is the process of assessing all the information collected via the listening process, and then deciding what to do with it.

This means waiting until you have all the necessary information before you develop a response. Here, responses include your reaction to it, as well as what you actually say in response.

Evaluating therefore requires listeners to keep an open mind about the messages they are receiving. It is important not to jump to conclusions about what is being said. Instead, you have to evaluate all the information before you start to formulate a response.

TOP TIP! Take a deep breath

When you are listening to someone, you can find yourself starting to react before they have finished speaking. This is especially true if they say something that makes you angry, or triggers another strong emotion.

Before you respond in anger or under the influence of any other strong emotion, try to take a deep breath (or several) to calm yourself down.

Tell yourself to listen to everything that they have to say before you can decide whether your anger is appropriate.

R – Responding

The final element of listening is responding.

Your response should be measured and demonstrate that you have understood what was communicated. It may be necessary to use techniques such as clarification and reflection as part of the response.

A response ‘closes’ the immediate episode of speaking and listening. However, it is important to remember that a response does not necessarily end the communication process.

Your response may well result in the other person saying more—and then you will need to repeat the process of listening again. Communication is an ongoing process of transmitting and receiving messages: of speaking and listening.

Listening is NOT a linear process

The HURIER model can be a useful way to describe and remember the key components of effective or active listening.

It is important to understand, however, that the processes involved do not happen in a linear way. An effective listener needs to be able to simultaneously hear, understand, interpret and evaluate the message to be able to formulate a clear understanding and an appropriate response.

Introduction to Communication Skills - The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Our Communication Skills eBooks

Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be a more effective communicator.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.

In Conclusion

It is vital to remember that listening is an active process—and considerably more than simply hearing. It encompasses all the processes required to make an effective response, up to and including responding itself. All these processes require a range of skills, which explains why it takes time and effort to develop your listening skills. However, this time and effort will be repaid over and over again in improved interpersonal communication and relationships.