What Can You Do to Try & Improve Your Listening Skills?

by Lee Grayson
Improving your listening skills doesn't demand complex or extraordinary training.

Improving your listening skills doesn't demand complex or extraordinary training.

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.

Avoiding Distractions

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.

Monitoring Activities

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.

Frequent Practice

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.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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