The average person spends 70 to 80 percent of the day in some kind of communication that involves listening. Nearly 45 percent of that time is spent simply listening, according to Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl, agricultural information specialists at the University of Missouri Extension. School instruction focuses on writing and reading, but with less time on learning how to listen. A few simple activities can help improve listening skills.
Content Focus and Context Clues
Good listeners focus on content and avoid planning an answer to the message while the speaker talks, according to Amy and Robert W. Bly of the Center for Technical Communication. Internal planning also creates interference with incoming messages. Focusing on the content and context clues helps improve your listening skills. Context clues are physical information that give information about the message, such as a printed brochure handed out to an audience or visual aids used by the speaker. These offer reinforcement of the speaker's message. Ask the important "W questions" about the message, including who, what, when, where and why, to focus the details.
Remove external distractions and avoid giving in to internal noise. External distractions include ringing cell phones or texting. The Student Counseling Service at Texas A&M University reminds listeners to "be aware of what your mind is doing and be alert." Focus on the listening experience and avoid daydreaming or allowing your mind to wander instead of listening to the details provided by the speaker.
The ACT testing organization recommends active listening to improve skills, and this means monitoring the message. Active listeners group and categorize information collected from the speaker such as numbering the reasons to adopt a program. Most presentations divide the content into manageable units, including the reasons to support a position. Other active listening tools include predicting, summarizing during the presentation and drawing inferences from the content. Monitoring also requires evaluating the evidence and examples given to judge the effectiveness and appropriateness of the material.
Good listeners continue to improve by practicing skills in a variety of different situations and circumstances. Taking notes during this practice time helps you collect more information. Listening for content with a partner and sharing notes offers a chance to compare your listening skills with another person, and also gives time to explore different personal listening techniques. The University of Missouri Extension recommends focusing on main ideas and supporting details, rather than listening to everything said. The extension also suggests avoiding concentrating on emotional appeals made by speakers.
- ACT: Student Readiness Inventory Tool Shop -- Improving My Listening Skills
- University of Minnesota Duluth Student Handbook: Listening Skills
- ETS TOEFL: The TOEFIL iBT Test -- Improving Your Listening Skills
- Central Piedmont Community College: Improving Your Listening Skills
- Texas A&M University Student Counseling Servie: Self Help-Listening Skills
- University of Missouri Extension: Listening -- Our Most Used Communication Skill
- National Capital Language Resource Center: Teaching Listening -- Strategies for Developing Listening Skills
- McGraw-Hill Higher Education: Listening and Critical Thinking
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