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Communication Skills: Listen-Out for What is Not Being Said

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Posted 22 December 2015 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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You may find the following will help with your Listening Skills skills training.

Listen-Out for What is NOT Being Said

When listening to another person who is trying to convince you to accept an idea, or opinion, it is often very important to listen out for what is NOT being said, ie you need to be concerned with what the other person is taking for granted, or assuming to be true, but not stating explicitly.

It is important because, what is left-out is often crucial to the argument and the missing statement may be dubious or false. You need therefore, to identify any missing, but dubious or false information that the other is leaving out of his argument.

Let me explain. Reasoning is based on three line arguments. Two starting premises leading to a conclusion.

For example:

  1. Everyone who wants to succeed needs good ideas.
  2. You are a person who wants to succeed.
  3. Therefore, you need good ideas.
  • The first line is the major premise.
  • The second line is the minor premise.
  • The third line is the conclusion.

In conversation, and in writing, most people do not give all three statements, because it would be tedious and annoying to do so. BUT that does not mean that the three lines don't matter. They do.

It is simply that most people assume, or take for granted one (or two) of the lines and leave the other(s) unstated and assumed.

I could say, "You need good ideas, because everyone who wants to succeed needs them". (I miss out line 2)

I could say, "You are a person who wants to succeed, so you need good ideas" ( I have missed out line 1).

I could say, "If you want to succeed, you need good ideas." (Missing out line 1 again).

I could simply say, "You need good ideas!" (Missing out lines 1 and 2).

I would be assuming lines 1 and 2.

The same thing happens all the time. So, you need to become sensitive to what is being missed out.


Have a look at the following and tell me what you think is not being said, but is assumed.

"You must follow the speed limit, because it is the law". (What is the missing major premise?)

"You are a man so you can't multi-task". (What is the missing premise?)

"It is the right thing to do, my feelings tell me so". (What is the missing premise?)

Do you get the idea? Listen carefully to what people are saying; try to figure out the missing premises that the person is NOT saying.

Then test the missing premise to see if it makes sense to you.

Then you would be an intelligent listener.

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Answers to Exercise:

1 All laws must be obeyed.

2 No man can multi-task.

3 The assumption is that feelings (emotions) are a reliable guide to correct action.

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