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How to be an Effective Listener

Listening is 3-dimensional—listen critically with the ears, thoughtfully with the mind, and understandingly with the eyes.

Good Listeners:

  • Need to think around the topic by listening between the lines, anticipate the instructor's next point, summarize what has been said, and put instructor's thoughts into their own words.
  • Listen with a pencil in their hands and take good notes.
  • Try to get as much out of a lecture as from a chapter in a book.
  • Avoid supersensitive listening (refuse to listen to anything they don't agree with).
  • Sit near the front so as not to miss anything. People who are good listeners manage to judge the content, and not the delivery. They realize that not all instructors are good lecturers. Some instructors have a very nervous demeanor and may not act as though they are comfortable lecturing; it doesn't mean that they have nothing of value to say. And some instructors may have an accent, or may speak softly or with little inflection in their voices. Again, while these things may be distracting to the listener, every effort should be made to ignore these physical problems and pay attention to the message.

Another area good listeners capitalize on is non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, gestures, body posture—all of these add to a lecture. Even something as minor as the instructor pacing back and forth, stopping only to emphasize a point, is important. A good listener will couple what is being said with what isn't being said (non-verbal) and draw conclusions.


Are there any things good listeners DON'T do?


Good Listeners Don't:

  • Interrupt in the middle of an explanation to say they don't understand.
  • Be too fast with a related question.
  • Display such impatience to speak as to indicate that the world's future depended on it.
  • Make worthless and insignificant contributions.
  • Believe speaking is more important than listening.
  • Dismiss a subject as uninteresting.
  • Avoid difficult explanations—if something is difficult to understand, many listeners give up too easily.
  • Find fault with a speaker's delivery or appearance.

How can you improve your listening ability? Many libraries have taped speeches or presentations that may be checked out; try listening to one of them and take notes. Or, make an effort to listen to one television newscast each day, and write a summary of one of the stories afterwards. In class, be sure to look at whoever is speaking, and then jot a few words about each comment made. With practice, anyone can develop the skill of critical listening.

“There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject; there are only uninterested people.”  G.K. Chesterton