As human beings, we use our senses to learn what is going on in the world around us. In ancient times, a person’s survival depended upon being able to hear and see many dangers in the environment. Our other senses of taste, touch, and smell also helped people survive. Many people think that sight is the most important sense. Early humans would have run into terrible danger without their sense of sight. Even today, it is hard for anyone to imagine how they could survive without their sense of sight. However, with the days of hunting and gathering a time of the past, today’s survival skills are very different.
Today, communication is one of man’s most important skills, and communication depends on the sense of hearing. Even when we are communicating by visual means, such as writing or typing, we are still using the language that most of us first learned by hearing before we were even out of the womb. Hearing can be defined as the ability which helps in the perception of sound through vibrations that are being detected by the ear. This is a biological or physical process. Listening, though it may seem similar to hearing, is however, different in that it entails perceiving and understanding the message that was heard.
Listening involves the use of a person’s sense of sight and hearing. Effective listening, therefore, involves the process by which a person understands, interprets, and analyzes the information received through hearing. It is an active process that is learned through time. Active listening skills are not only useful in understanding verbal speech, but also enable a person to derive a conclusion from the speaker’s body language. The ability to listen is essential for success in all relationships. Effective listening skills involve a person paying full attention to the speaker, and having the ability to ignore all eternal distractions.
The inability to give your full, undivided attention to the speaker can be disrespectful and may send the message that what the speaker has to say is not important. One poor listening habit that really offends me is when the listener frequently interrupts while I am speaking, and they go on to share their own story. In my opinion, the listener must have a lot of internal noise or psychological garbage that is distracting them from my message. They may start out attending well, but their own internal noise gets in the way, and they stop listening to what I am really saying.
To be an effective listener, you must be able to clear your mind of your personal thoughts, and listen intently without bias or judgment. Wait patiently until the speaker is done to interject with your own thoughts or ideas. The text states that Noise: comprised of external, internal, and semantic, are all definite barriers to effective listening. One particular exercise, the listening skills survey, allowed me pinpoint my particular strengths and weaknesses in the communication process. I invited three of my peers to an IEP meeting that involved the teachers and therapists of my son’s special needs classroom.
The purpose of this meeting was to access my son’s progress, and set up appropriate goals for the following year. My peers were instructed to observe my listening skills, and fill out a survey of my strengths and weaknesses. My greatest strength as an effective listener was my ability to give the speaker my undivided attention and I always looked the speaker in the eye. I also was observed to patiently wait until the speaker was done speaking, and then I paraphrased what was said in order to ensure I understood the message intended.
Not only does paraphrasing illustrate that I was attending well, but it also showed that I wanted to clear up any misunderstandings I may have had in the message. Another strength that I exhibited in my listening skills was I asked a lot of questions to gain a better understanding of the information presented. Some of the behaviors my son exhibits at school are very different from the behaviors he has at home, so I continually asked questions to expand my knowledge base and get a clear picture of the information presented.
One of my greatest weaknesses was my peers observed me nervously looking at the clock throughout the meeting. I was not even aware that I was doing that, but I do know that I was concerned about the time because my other children needed to be picked up from school at a certain time. My peers stated that I seemed that I was in hurry, and that added a note of distraction to my listening skills. Another weakness of mine was the act of defensive listening. Every time a bad behavior was noted in my son, I was obviously offended and seemed to always have to defend my parenting skills.
My peers wrote that I seemed “on guard” throughout the entire meeting. Again, I was completely unaware of this poor listening skill as I was engaging in it. The listening skills survey was a great way to receive objective and very helpful constructive criticism regarding my ability as a effective listener. Based on the results of this survey, I found that there are some informational listening skills that I could adopt to become a more effective listener. Preparing to listen would help me in my school and personal life.
I could have arranged a friend to pick up my other kids, and I could have gone over the teacher reports, so that my son’s poor behaviors were not a surprise. In school, reading the required materials and printing off power points really helps me prepare to listen to lecture. Another skill that will help me become a better listener is to personalize the information while receiving it. As you are taking in information, it will have more meaning to it if you can make it relevant to your life or experience.
Another good tactic is to try to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes so that you can have an understanding of their point of view. This would have helped me during the IEP meeting in understanding where my son’s teachers were coming from. A final skill that would help me become a better listener would be to understand or evaluate the part of my self-concept that makes me feel as though I need to defend my parenting skills. Understanding that pointing out my son’s bad behavior is not a personal attack on my parenting, but clearly just a function of my sons behavior, would help me NOT to be a defensive listener.
Having the ability to identify my insecurities and try not to let them effect my process of listening will only help me become a better communicator and person. In my final exercise for this assessment, I am supposed to view a television commercial or ad, and analyze the message being sent through critical listening. Every day, through television, radio, and even internet ads, we as a community are inundated with product rhetoric and messages trying to sway our opinions one way or the other.
Unlike informative listening where the main goal is to acquire information, persuasive messages have an ultimate goal of selling a particular product to the consumer. It is our responsibility, as responsible consumers, to evaluate these messages and look for certain fallacies in the message. These fallacies are flaws in reasoning that are presented to try to sway the listener toward one point of view or the other. The evidence that supports the product or point of view is not always valid, but the speaker uses other deceptive reasoning to sway the listener toward their point of view.
America’s advertising industry is filled with these fallacies, and if you are not careful, it is easy to become a victim of these advertising schemes. I watched a commercial for Wrangler Jeans that starred previous Green Bay Packer quarterback, Brett Favre. From the beginning I questioned what knowledge and skills a NFL quarterback possesses, to be a judge or endorsement for blue Jeans. If the product was sports related I may have believed some of his ideas, but the Wrangler Company is using the popularity appeal of Brett Favre to sell their product.
This fallacious reasoning is called Ad verecundium, or an inappropriate appeal to authority where the speaker claims something is true because an esteemed person says it’s true. The only information on the commercial for Wrangler jeans is that Brett Favre “likes them, finds them durable, and comfortable”. There is no evidence about the material, thread count, or the durability of the product to help me come to an informed decision on the product. It is ridiculous that I am going to buy Wrangler Jeans just because a sports hero thinks they are good.
As informed consumers, we must be constantly aware of these fallacies, and be able to challenge the clever ways in which a company tries to sell their product. In order to acquire the appropriate skills in becoming an effective and active listener, a person must be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their listening habits. Active listening is a set of learned skills and techniques which encourage people to communicate more openly and freely. Through positive communication, both the speaker and the listener feel heard, seen, respected, and thoroughly understood.
Consequently, the two or more people involved in the communication process have a far greater chance of resolving conflicts, strengthening their personal or working relationships, and accomplishing their goals through this effective communication process. Effective listening skills also enable the listener to show that while they may not agree with the other person, they still very much value his or her own unique point of view. One of the greatest gifts you can instill as a listener is allowing the speaker to feel valued, respected, and heard.