Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Science and Sanity of Listening

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Science and Sanity of Listening

Article excerpt


Listening, we are told, is a vital part of our daily lives. Listening is the only way we can properly learn new information or understand how to do things. Beyond this, one often hears, listening is necessary for esthetic pleasure, relationship building, and to advance one's career. Still, it seems to be an aspect of communication with which many people struggle. Indeed, although aware of the instrumentality of listening, even trained communicators often fail to listen correctly or at opportune times. This article will argue that part of the difficulty with listening may not come from a true failure to listen, but from the abstract nature of word "listening" itself.

Listening is done in a variety of situations and for a variety of reasons, many of which do not involve an overlapping skill set. When one listens to music, one is not involved in the same sort of activity as when one listens to a friend vent after a difficult day of work or when one listens to one's employer give instructions on a new procedure. The wildly different nature of these activities and the skills involved in them mean that one can easily be listening, and yet simultaneously fail to listen. In fact, as will be shown later, some forms of listening actually preclude other forms; that is to say that in the case of listening AA. Because of this, listening is a slippery term and one who wishes to become a good listener is inevitably prone to failure.

On the other hand, there are a series of tools that come from the discipline of general semantics that allow us to properly navigate thorny abstract terms such as "listening." The purpose of this article is to use some of these tools to help us come to a better understanding of the abstract nature of the term listening. The article will show that through the application of what general semanticists refer to as "extensional devices," listening can become a less abstract and more manageable skill set, which will allow us to perform better the basic operations that fall under the abstract heading of "listening." To accomplish this, the article will first examine the literature arising from the field of interpersonal communication regarding listening. Next, the article will consider how the notion of extensional devices, which comes from the discipline of general semantics, can be applied to better understand the concept of listening. The article will go on to show that applying these devices to the types of listening can help clarify the listening that is needed at a particular time and a particular place. Finally, the article will recommend procedures whereby a communicator can apply the devices for his or her listening to arrive at a saner experience.

Listening in Interpersonal Communication

Listening is a popular subject among scholars of interpersonal communication for a number of reasons. The fact that interpersonal scholars are often teachers and that listening is understood as an important part of our students' lives undoubtedly plays a role in the reason for the popularity of the subject matter. According to Buckley, "Students listen to the equivalent of a book a day; talk the equivalent of a book a week; read the equivalent of a book a month; and write the equivalent of a book a year" (1992, p. 622). According to another study, college students spend 55% of the time they spend communicating in listening (Emanuel et al., 2008), a number that only rises as they enter the workforce (Wolvin & Coakley, 1981, 1996). The need for teaching about listening appears evident, and so research by teaching professors logically flows as an outgrowth of this necessity.

Another reason that listening is such a popular subject for researchers of interpersonal communication is that listening is understood as having such an intense impact on the interpersonal relationship, the most common unit of analysis in interpersonal communication. Most people see listening as among the most important interpersonal skills (Wolvin, 1984). …

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