Listen Long: Principles for Effective
listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the
words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person
speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she
is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of
light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper
silences in yourself, so you can slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural
speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.”
that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.
Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Since the rise of the radio and the development
of television, the spoken word has regained much of its lost stature (Bryant).
Being listened to means we are taken seriously,
our ideas and feelings are known, and, ultimately, what we have to say matters
Generous listening enhances our own well-being
and is the natural perspective of psychology, in which all human behavior is
seen as motivated by the agendas of the self (Nichols).
We learn our culture largely through listening;
we learn to think by listening; we learn to love by listening; we learn about
ourselves by listening (Robinson).
Being listened to spells the difference between
feeling accepted and feeing isolated (Nichols).
In our society, listening is essential to the
development and survival of the individual (Robinson).
Most people will not really listen or pay
attention to your point of view until they become convinced you have heard and
appreciate theirs (Nichols).
Some studies indicate that we may be listening
at only a 25 percent comprehension rate.
How much of what we know that we have learned by
listening? 85% (Shorpe)
Amount of the time we are distracted,
preoccupied or forgetful? 75% (Hunsaker)
How much we usually recall immediately after we
listen to someone talk? 50% (Robinson)
Amount of time we spend listening? 45%
How much we remember of what we hear? 20%
Amount of us who have had formal educational
experience with listening? less than 2% (Gregg)
We listen at 125-250 words per minute, but think
at 1000-3000 words per minute. (HighGain, Inc.)
Number of business studies that indicate that
listening is a top skill needed for success in business? more than 35
Interrupting the speaker.
Not looking at the speaker.
Rushing the speaker and making him feel that
he’s wasting the listener’s time.
Showing interest in something other than the
Getting ahead of the speaker and finishing her
Not responding to the speaker’s requests.
Saying, “Yes, but . . .,” as if the listener has
made up his mind.
Topping the speaker’s story with “That reminds
me. . .” or “That’s nothing, let me tell you about. . .”
Forgetting what was talked about previously.
Asking too many questions about details.
Poor Listening Habits
Effective listeners do their best to avoid these habits:
Calling the subject uninteresting
Criticizing the speaker &/or delivery
Listening only for facts (bottom line)
Not taking notes or outlining everything
Tolerating or creating distractions
Tuning out difficult material
Letting emotional words or ideas block the
message or get us of track
Wasting the time difference between speed of
speech and speed of thought
Nichols, R. G. and L. A. Stevens (1957). Are you listening?
New York, McGraw-Hill.
for poor listening (Ehninger, Douglas, et al. Principles and Types of
Speech Communication. 9th Ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and
Not focusing on the message.
As listeners, we can mentally handle more than 400 spoken
words per minute, yet the average speaker produces between 125-175 words per
minute. In the excess time, the listener begins to think of other things.
We often bring into the communication setting our past,
our feelings, our values, our attitudes. Sometimes the speaker will present a
thought or word which triggers a past experience. At that point we start to think
about the experience and soon forget the message being presented.
Being passive is much easier than concentrating on the
speaker’s message, but, unfortunately, it leads to ineffective listening.
A physical communication setting that works
Just as your other thoughts can invade your internal
perceptual field, so also can distractions outside your body invade your
external perceptual field, drawing your attention away from the speech.
Listener’s own needs that may compete with the
Perhaps you didn’t sleep well, have a cold, or are hungry.
All of these personal factors compete for your energy and focus. Again, your
physical needs as an individual win out over your intellectual needs as a
It takes mental and physical energy to deal with words or
concepts that we don’t know, it is easier to turn off
the listening process when the speaker uses unfamiliar language. Unfamiliarity
requires energy that listeners may not be willing to expend.
Preset ideas about the topic, the speaker, or
Many speakers are not given a fair hearing because the
audience accepts conclusions about them or their topics beforehand.
of Listening (Wolvin and Coakley in Ehninger, Douglas, et al.
Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th Ed. Glenview,
IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.)
undertaken by people principally concerned with something
other than the primary message.
come to hear and enjoy a “famous” speaker
like to hear a good presenter
like to be in the audience on a special occasions
auditors are attempting to draw inferences about unstated
matters—about what speakers “really” think or believe or feel.
important dimension of listening—especially of listeners’ judgments regarding
emotional impact, speaker credibility, the urgency of some problem—has to do
with relatively sophisticated inferences auditors draw from (rather than find
auditor acts as a sounding board for the speaker as that
person attempts to talk through a problem, work out a difficult situation, or
express deep emotional stress or confusion
actually is more typical of interpersonal than of public
special social bonding between speaker and listener occurs;
the speaker-audience relationship itself becomes recognized and even
most common auditory activity
the listener wants to gain additional information or
insights being provided by the speaker
in a meeting or classroom
most sophisticated kind of listening
demands that auditors become fully engaged with the message
in order not simply to understand it, but to interpret it, judge its strengths
and weaknesses, and assign some worth to it
evaluate commercials, political campaign speeches, advice
given you by career counselors, or arguments offered by people for or against
some plan of action on the job
To some extent, the type of listening for a
given auditor will depend on the occasion, speaker and topic as well as the
Al Capp, who drew Li’l Abner for years, was known to be
a humorist, and when he tried to talk seriously about America’s
political problems in the 1960s, he generally disappointed student audiences;
they wanted him to make them laugh, and they would laugh, no matter what he
F. Buckley, Jr., is known for his intellectual sneer and well-turned phrases;
his audiences wait for both, and were he not to provide them, people would
leave his speeches wondering what was wrong with him.
Ask yourself some questions to be a better listener (Ehninger,
Douglas, et al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th
Ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.)
Listener Analysis of Self
is my purpose in listening?
1.) gain information and understanding
2.) make a critical decision based on the speaker’s presentation
about your listening behavior when a teacher announces “This material will be
on the next test.”
recognizing why you are listening, you can better analyze the message. If the
message has personal importance, you will be more likely to give it your
I impartial about the topic being presented?
aside your prior feelings until the speaker has had a chance to develop a
judgment until all of the ideas have been developed.
How much do I know about the topic?
1.) Not a
lot, you can better direct your attention to listening.
2.) A lot
already, be prepared to compare the speaker’s
information to your knowledge.
do I expect from this message?
burden the speaker with expectations that the person is not prepared to
do I know about the speaking situation?
set for the expecting length of the message, whether there will be Q&A,
whether you’ll have to give a response.
can I expect from the listening environment?
aware of the physical environment: temperature and sounds of the room.
with them before the message, if possible.
not, at least you can put them in perspective.
words or ideas cause me to stray from the listening situation?
note of special words that seem to pull you away from the speaker’s message.
Look them up in a dictionary afterward.
Analysis of Speaker
do I know about this speaker?
your previous experience with the speaker has been favorable, you will be more
likely to be receptive to the message.
you have had a disagreement with the person or if the person is someone you do
not respect, you may allow that prior knowledge to filter and color the way you
understand the message.
listening carefully, you may never consider worthwhile ideas which deserve your
believable is the speaker?
need to listen for the main ideas presented; the detail will follow.
you know that the speaker has reported false information, you should weigh that
when considering and evaluating the message after it has been fully presented.
speaker prepared for the occasion by conducting adequate research and by
considering relationships among ideas?
the evidence sound?
he/she address critical issues?
is the speaker’s attitude toward this presentation?
for behaviors that give clues.
Listener Analysis of Message
are the main ideas of the speech?
are the main ideas arranged?
sorts of supporting materials are used to develop the main ideas?
there is a discrepancy between your knowledge and the ideas presented by the
speaker, find out why it exists. This should help you clarify the differences
and reach a conclusion about the validity of the total message.
they valid and appropriate?
they used credibly?
relate, and anticipate.
what the speaker has said.
a few seconds to summarize the content of the message, to think about the way
the materials have been developed. Mentally add to the summary review each time
the speaker initiates a new topic for consideration.
the message to what you already know.
how important the message is to you and how you might use the information at
some future time.
what the speaker might say next.
the development of the materials to that point, what is the speaker likely to
say next? Use the anticipation stage as a way of continuing to focus on the
content of the message. It’s not important if you are right or wrong-the
important element is that you have directed your attention to the message.
reviewing, relating, and anticipating you can use up the extra time generated
by the speech-thought lag and keep your attention focused on the message.
be diverted by appearance or delivery
listen for main points
ii. listen for evidence
iii. listen for technique
iv. develop note-taking skills
for speakers: How to make your audience listen more (from Ehninger,
Douglas, et al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th
Ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986.)
Overall: Make connections to what they already
Cover the issues that are important to the audience
a pattern that makes sense to the audience
Use previews, transitions, internal summaries and
signposts to make the structure conspicuous.
support material that is memorable and valid
Limit non-essential details that may throw listeners
Stick to their expectations—length,
Give an agenda and stick to it
Make it interesting
Set realistic goals
their attention and keep
Use variety—support, delivery—everything
stories and examples liberally. It is better to say a lot about a little than a
little about a lot.
Whatever tires you will certainly tire them.
When speaking to a non-technical audience (outside our your specialty), generalize at a level that makes you
Be fluid in your delivery.
Use nonverbals that support your message.
Make your delivery appropriate to the topic and
Make it fit the audience
If things are working, change—even in the middle of the
examples, comments, etc. that are unique to your audience or occasion
Put yourself in their seat—remember what it’s like to
be a listener.
International Listening Association, www.listen.org
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