Listening: A Vital Skill

By Petress, Kenneth C. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Listening: A Vital Skill


Petress, Kenneth C., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Listening is a key to conveying clear meaning. Listening is a skill which we all need to better develop. This article suggests eight clusters of ways quality listening manifests itself. Ways to measure good listening skills and that speakers can enhance their own messages can be listened to with greater acuity are discussed.

Listening is among our most consequential communication skills even though it is too frequently relegated to a lesser role in many educational, social, and political spheres. Listening is the awareness of, the tending to, the organization of, and the operationalization of data entering our nervous system via our hearing mechanism. Unlike hearing, which is a physiological passive activity, listening is an active cognitive process. University faculty, staff, students, and administrators would all benefit from improving their listening skills. Faculty would be better able to: respond to student and staff concerns; detect subtle evidence of student learing, measure concern about students' personal progress, and detect insight nuances. Staff members would be better able to respond to student and faculty needs when they listened more carefully to others' needs and reasons for those needs. Hurt feelings and perceived lack of worth shown to staff members could be mitigated in many cases through better listening and by clearer responses as a result. Administrators could make themselves better informed about campus attitudes and activities and its members' personalities and practices by better listening to those around them for information, feelings, and reactions to policy, institutional needs, and ongoing events. Lastly, students can learn more if they listen more intently to faculty and each other and form hasty judgments less often, think about responses prior to others' statements being finished, and listen to entire messages rather than tending to partial ideas.

In job searches, interviewers routinely expect to be told that applicants are "good listeners." Incisive interviewers ask: "What can you tell me that offers evidence that an applicant is a good listener?" When the immediate response is silence, interviewers are entitled to and frequently do interpret that silence as evidence of (a) unpreparedness on the part of the person being asked or (b) a lack of ready evidence that the applicant is truly a good listener. Neither outcome is desirable. Following is a list of common good listener traits. See how many of these you commonly exhibit and try to attach these traits to clear examples of your own or others' behavior to be used when called on as a position applicant or as a reference for others.

1. Good listeners pay close attention to individual inferences, facts, and judgments and are able to later make useful and logical connections between what they have heard on multiple occasions.

2. Good listeners give clear non-verbal evidence to speakers that they are listening attentively. Such evidence includes: a forward lean toward the speaker rather than a too casual/dismissive lean away from a speaker; maintenance of eye contact; and a lack of dismissive or inattentive fidgeting.

3. …

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