Listening Effectively: Introduction

Drawings of ears and the word listen. “You’re not listening!” An unhappy teen shouts this at a concerned parent. A frustrated parent yells this as a toddler runs through a parking lot. A teacher says it while flicking the overheard lights on and off, trying to get her unruly students to heed her. A woman offers these three words as a parting shot before hanging up on her significant other. A man complains of this to his spouse during a couple’s counseling session. We can imagine all these scenarios and more; all of them rooted in a speaker wondering if his or her audience is truly listening.

Public speaking requires an audience to hear. Otherwise it’s private speaking, and anyone overhearing you might wonder if you’ve lost your wits. What makes public speaking truly effective is when the audience hears and listens. You might think the two are synonymous. But they aren’t, as you will soon understand. In a classic listening text, Adler notes, “How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required.”[2] Since listening requires great effort, this chapter offers the skills needed to listen effectively.

Developing your listening skills can have applications throughout your educational, personal, and professional lives. You will begin by examining the difference between hearing and listening. This module will also help you understand your role as a listener, not only in a public speaking class, but also in the world. You’ll read about attributes of an active listener, barriers to listening, and strategies to listen better. Finally, building on valuable lessons regarding listening, this chapter concludes with suggestions public speakers can use to encourage audiences to listen more attentively.

We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less. ~ Diogenes

Man listening to child "Listen to your kids" by Bindaas Madhavi. CC-BY-NC-ND.

  1. Adler, "M. J. (1983). How to speak, how to listen. New York: Macmillan. "
  2. Adler, "M. J. (1983). How to speak, how to listen. New York: Macmillan. "

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