Why do we not listen better than we do? The reason is that we listen ineffectively and carelessly. Listening is a demanding and complex activity, which is just as important as speaking in the communication process.

There are five elements of listening: hearing, attending, understanding, responding, and remembering. We often believe that listening is a natural ability. After all, we listen to others all the time. But when you consider that in our hectic lives we suffer from message overloads, preoccupation, rapid thought, effort, external noise, faulty assumptions, lack of apparent advantages, lack of training, hearing, problems, and media influences, it becomes quickly apparent that effective listening must be an applied and learned skill.

Ineffective listening is divided into pseudolistening, stage-hogging, selective listening, insulated listening, defensive listening, ambushing, and insensitive listening. When you read the definitions for these seven types of ineffective listening, you realize quickly that, like all of us, you have been guilty of these deficits. As the chapter points out, there are many reasons that we do not listen all the time. Personal preoccupation and rapid thoughts distract us from focusing on active listening skills. The sheer volume of messages that we receive every day often overwhelms us. It is physically draining to focus on active listening.

How often have you tried to get information and become frustrated because you felt that what you needed to know was not forthcoming? Some ways of lessening this frustration is to talk less, reduce distractions, avoid making premature judgments, avoid initial perceptions, and seek the speaker’s key ideas. A simplified example would be when you stop someone to give you directions: if you talk and tell a long-involved story why you need to get to a certain spot, you can not listen, and the person giving the directions will also shut off at a certain point and possibly make mistakes when giving the directions.

Your text discusses how, out of the five components of listening, it is responding that lets us know how well others are tuned in to what we are saying. There are a number of response styles. Some are focused on gathering more information to better understand the speaker. These are prompting, questioning, and paraphrasing. (We’ll discuss paraphrasing more thoroughly in the second part of this chapter.) Questioning is not only a very good method to verify or increase your understanding actively but also can be a way to help someone else to think about his or her problems and understand them better. However, not all questions are equally helpful. They can be sincere (trying to understand others) or they can be counterfeit (aimed at sending a message not receiving one). Your text explains the seven varieties of counterfeit questions.

There are times when other people want to hear more than a reflection of how they feel. They want to know how you feel. Supportive responses show the listener’s solidarity with the speaker’s situation. These responses can take the form of agreement, offers of help, praise, reassurance, and diversion. However, one must be careful that supportive responses are effective. These responses should not consist of the denial of others right to their feelings, minimization of the significance of the situation, focus on “then and there” rather than on “here and now”, casting of judgment, or a defense of oneself. You should remind yourself that you could give an effective response without approving of another person’s decision but just by giving support.

When you use an analyzing response, you simply offer an interpretation of the speaker’s message. Advising responses are often our first impulse when listening to another person’s problem. However, research has shown that this response is actually unhelpful more often than not. Judging responses should only be used when there are two factors present: a) the person with the problem has asked for an evaluation of the problem; and b) the intent of your judgment is genuinely constructive and not intended as a “put down.” Other than these two criteria, resist judging responses.

What listening response should you choose? That depends on your gender, the situation, the other person, and your personal style. There is no set style of listening that will fit all situations and all persons.

Please know the key terms of the chapter and read the text thoroughly. I have listed some web links for your further study and your enjoyment.

Web Links

Be All Ears

Active Listening Skills

Quiz: The Listening Quiz for Couples

Improving Listening Skills

Quiz: Are You a Really Good Listener?

Quiz: Rate Your Listening Skills

Quiz: How Well Do You Listen to Your Children?

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