Self-Imposed Silence and Perceived Listening Effectiveness

By Johnson, Iris W.; Pearce, C. Glenn et al. | Business Communication Quarterly, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Self-Imposed Silence and Perceived Listening Effectiveness


Johnson, Iris W., Pearce, C. Glenn, Tuten, Tracy L., Sinclair, Lucinda, Business Communication Quarterly


Thus far, listening training has been limited to lectures on the process of listening and experiential exercises designed to provide for practice in listening and for assisting in a person's ability to recognize his or her own beneficial and detrimental listening behaviors. Using a new process-silence--for developing listening skills, this study compared the effects on perceived listening effectiveness of a self-imposed period of silence versus attending a lecture on listening skills versus a combination of a self-imposed period of silence and attending a lecture. While no significant differences were found for either lecture or silence or the combination of the two on measures of perceived listening effectiveness, qualitative data from journals kept by the participants suggest that the act of self-imposed silence greatly improves awareness of one's listening effectiveness and the value of developing beneficial listening skills.

Keywords: Self-imposed silence, listening effectiveness, listening skills, listening training

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LISTENING EFFECTIVENESS is growing in importance as the value of strong communication skills in improving the workplace environment. Instruments for measuring perceived listening effectiveness were developed by Barker, Pearce, and Johnson (1992); Cooper and Husband (1993); and Watson, Barker, and Weaver (1995). Thus far, listening training has been limited to lectures on the process of listening and to experiential exercises designed to provide for listening practice and to assist in recognizing a person's own beneficial and detrimental listening behaviors.

Background

The ability to listen effectively is increasingly recognized as a critical skill among managers and leaders (Gilley & Moore, 1986; Johnson & Bechler, 1998; Lahiff & Hatfield, 1978), salespeople (Bohn, 1999), and in work teams (Levine, 1994). According to Haas and Arnold (1995), listening plays a central role in how coworkers assess one another's communication effectiveness more than any other type of communication.

While working for years with business people as well as students to improve their listening skills, we looked continuously for better approaches to listening training. A newspaper article (Soriano, 2001) triggered the idea that perhaps self-imposed periods of silence might enhance people's awareness of their listening behaviors. A literature search yielded an absence of studies involving silence and listening. However, related evidence did show that interruptions by interviewers while listening to job candidates (McComb & Jablin, 1984) and interruptions by physicians while listening to patients (Nyquist, 1996) had negative consequences for how the interviewers and doctors were perceived and how much information they were able to obtain. Given this absence of direct evidence, we decided to conduct a pilot study to determine whether such research was feasible and, if so, to establish a procedure for conducting an empirical study.

A pilot study conducted by Johnson and Pearce and presented at the Association for Business Communication International Conference in 2001 focused on listeners becoming aware of their communication behaviors by voluntarily engaging in periods of self-imposed silence. Participants were undergraduate business students enrolled in three sections of a required organizational communication course at a major mid-Atlantic university. First, the students attempted two hours of silence and reported their results the next week via a written description of their experience. After discussing the results, the students who wanted to attempt 24 hours of silence volunteered to participate. After the 24-hour silence period ended, the students completed an expert-validated questionnaire about the experience. Questions concerned the individual's experience with speaking English, the physical circumstances in which the experiment took place, the difficulty level of remaining silent, the methods favored to communicate while remai ning silent, and the principal things they learned about their own listening habits and those of others. …

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