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Improving Our Listening


          Recognizing the inhibiting factors to listening is a great first step to becoming a better listener. Regardless of the situation you are in, as a communicator, listening involves silence. Remember, in order to listen well, you must be silent. There is a reason “listen” and “silent” are spelled using the same letters. Silence also allows our brain to wholly focus on and process the content being conveyed to us. Silence does not show affirmation to the message, but rather respect for the messenger. The time for rebuttals comes after someone is speaking. By listening silently, you are more likely to gather and develop your own opinion based on your personal frame of reference. 

Tips for Listening for Information or Enjoyment

•    Withhold judgment. Wait for the full message to be presented before deciding whether to accept or reject it. 
•    Be opportunistic. Every opportunity you have to listen, take advantage of it as you use your skills to analyze the message.
•    Look for organizational elements. Each speech is an opportunity to evaluate its effectiveness. Has the speaker organized the message so you can follow it well and effortlessly? Is there a structure to it, or are they just rambling? Is there a point to the message? Did they tell you the point (thesis)? Have they laid out the direction they are going or the points they will be covering (preview)? 
•    Take notes. Written or mental notes help the information make sense and solidify what you are hearing. Physically writing down what you hear helps put it into context and place meaning to it. 
•    Repeat the message. After you hear something, tell someone else. Explain it to them so they might be able to understand it. This will help you put the information in your memory for deeper understanding.
•    Paraphrase the message. Put the idea of the message into your own words as you tell others to strengthen your understanding of the message.

Tips for Listening to Evaluate

•    Consider the speaker's motives. What are their reasons for telling you this information? Have they shown why it is important for you to know this information (WIFFM – What’s in it for me?)? Have they been open and honest about why they are telling you this information? What is their credibility on this subject?
•    Examine the data/research. What is the validity of the information they are providing? Have they provided evidence for their arguments? Have they cited their sources? Is it current information? Is it relevant? Does it have supportive information? How does it pertain to you? 
•    Examine the emotional appeal. Are they asking you to do something? Do they want you to feel a certain way through their message? What are the appeals they are using? Are they valid? Do emotional appeals help you understand the message? Were the emotional appeals successful? 

Tips to Listen Empathetically

•    Avoid being judgmental. Just let them talk. It really isn’t about you. Don’t decide if they are right or wrong—just listen until the end, then make a decision. 
•    Advise them. They may request your input and information, give them your thoughts and advice. Analyze the situation. The speaker may be seeking a sounding board to analyze the situation, occurrence, or information. Be specific on your input. 
•    Question them (nicely). They may need help finding the right to ask in a situation. You can ask them questions to allow them to see new ways of thinking regarding the situation. 
•    Be supportive. The person may need someone to lean on, to just be there, and to provide an unbiased view. 
•    Paraphrase what they are saying. Remembering the usefulness of paraphrasing, you may be asked to help them by paraphrasing/explaining their message to help them understand it more fully.

General Tips to Improve Your Listening

•    Be aware of how others listen differently
•    Desire to be a better listener
•    Practice the various listening styles
•    Become less self-oriented 
•    Be respectful of the speaker and the message
•    Keep an open mind to the message
•    Listen for facts, keywords, feelings, and content
•    Listen for organizational structure
•    Maintain eye contact
•    Don’t multitask 
•    Tell someone else in order to reaffirm the message
•    Be patient
•    Practice being an active listener

Become an Active Listener

          Take ownership of your own listening. Ask questions! If you don’t understand what the speaker is saying or what something means, ask them (when the time is appropriate—for some speeches this will be at the end, but for others, it will be during). If you are confused by the information, it is likely others are too. 

          Sincere questions are ones that seek real help and information. If you ask false questions or questions designed to trick/trap a speaker, then you are not truly seeking understanding. It is not advised to use the question time to further your own agenda. Be straightforward in your reasons for asking the questions. Ask for more information or advice from the speaker. Ask them questions about specific experiences they have had and how they have learned from them relating to their topic. Don’t be afraid of the specifics. Ask the five W’s and one H (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?). You should be consciously thinking about the wording of your questions. Just as the speaker puts prior thought into how they want their presentation’s meaning to be received, you should put effort into the questions you ask. 

          Active listeners will also paraphrase the speaker. Paraphrasing is putting what you have just heard into your own words. It helps the listener comprehend the message. When you rephrase the statement, you may not be able to state exactly what was said, but you can give the gist of it back to them. The gist is the general or basic meaning of something said or written. Paraphrasing allows you to verify and clarify your understanding of the meaning of the message the speaker is conveying. When you verify its accuracy, you clarify the intended meaning. Summarizing the main ideas is also a helpful technique to show you have been listening to the message. Sometimes it is important to echo back verbatim what the speaker said. This will allow you to analyze their word choice and develop the sense of meaning they want you to. These techniques also help them to know you were really listening to them.

Review Questions

1) Why does listening involve silence? 

2) When you listen for enjoyment what are some things you should do?

3) What do you do to help you listen more intently?

4) What is paraphrasing and how does it help you become a better listener?

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