4.4: Strategies to Enhance Listening
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Keep an Open Mind
The effective listener is calm with a focused and alert mind. You are not waiting to hear what you want to hear, but listening to “what is said as it is said” (Ramsland, 1992). Effective listeners remember that listening to a point of view is not the same as accepting that point of view. Recognizing this can help you to cultivate a more open perspective, helping you to better adjust as you listen actively to a speaker.
In any setting where you are expected to listen, you encounter numerous distractions. In the classroom setting, you might be distracted sitting beside friends who make sarcastic comments throughout the class. In a new product meeting with the sales team, you could be unnerved by the constant beep of your phone identifying another text, email, or phone message has arrived.
Identifying the things that will interrupt your attention, and making a conscious choice to move to a different seat or turn off your phone, can help position you to listen more effectively.
Another useful strategy is to come prepared when you can. Any time you enter a listening situation with some advance working knowledge of the speaker and what might be expected of you as a listener, you will be better able to adjust and engage more deeply in what is being said.
For instance, you might read the assigned readings for class, read a biography of a guest speaker before you go to an event, or consult with a colleague about a client before going on-site to make a sale. Preparing for any speaking situation will help you retain information and be a more effective listener.
Taking notes can also advance your ability to be actively engaged in the speaker’s words. You need not write down everything the speaker is saying. First, this is quite likely to be impossible. Second, once you are caught up in recording a speaker’s every word, you are no longer listening. If you feel you really must capture every single word the speaker says, use a tape recorder after having asked the speaker’s permission first.
You want to focus your efforts on really listening with an active mind. Learning to focus your attention on main points, key concepts, and gaining the overall gist of the speaker’s talk is another skill to develop. You might endeavor to do this by jotting down a few notes or even drawing visuals that help you to recall the main ideas.
The manner in which you take the notes is up to you; what is important is the fact that you are listening and working to process what is being said. Writing down questions that come to mind and asking questions of the speaker when it is possible, are two more ways to guarantee effective listening as you have found an internal motivation to listen attentively.
Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.
~ Robert Frost