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Listening Skills Training

Listening skills training

Listening skills training

Communication is a two way process.

You need to receive information, as well as you transmit information.
You have to be a good listener.

Many people are not good listeners. Many people are self-absorbed, and they concern themselves with their own thoughts, more than the thoughts of the other person. This is natural and good.

BUT, there are occasions when you must be able to focus your mental attention on the other person and absorb all the information you can; i.e. you must listen to the other person.

How should you listen?

Listening is not a passive process. Listening is a mentally active process. Your ears will hear but it is your mind that must listen.

Question: Is there a difference between hearing a person speak and listening to a person speak?
Answer: Yes.

Question: What is the difference between hearing and listening?
Answer: Hearing is the automatic functioning of the auditory system. (Assuming you are not deaf,) if you are awake, then you hear things.

Listening is the non-automatic focusing of your mental attention onto what you are hearing and the simultaneous judgement, assessment and memorisation of what you are hearing.

Listening is not automatic; listening takes effort

How can you improve your listening skills?

Here are the steps:

  • Decide to!
  • Ask yourself, continuous questions about what you are hearing.
  • Ask yourself, "What is the point this person is trying to make?"
  • Ask yourself, "Is there sufficient evidence to convince me this is right, true or good?"
  • Ask for clarification of any ambiguous terms or any apparent contradictions.
  • Ask the "So what? Question". What consequences for action are there, if any?
  • Try to visualise (and memorise) the message, as you are hearing it.

Decide to!

The most important step to improving your listing skills is to, decide to!

If you don't consciously decide to improve your listening skills, then you won't.

Listening is a mental act. And therefore you must engage your minds full focus and attention. Unless you decide, in advance of the conversation, to drop your current thoughts about the latest pressing problem, then you won't engage your brain, and you won't absorb as much information, as you otherwise would have.

Decide, in advance of the conversation, to engage your brain.
When you are in gear, then set yourself to the task:

Ask yourself a continuous flow of questions about what you are hearing

Because listening requires mental activity, you must give your brain a definite task to perform, in relation to the message. That task is to analyse and evaluate the message by asking questions about what you are hearing. This does not mean you distract yourself with associated thoughts of your own. You are keeping your mind engaged by asking specific questions.

What questions?

Ask yourself "What is the point this person is trying to make?"

The most important question is this; "What is the point this person is trying to make?"
Presumably, the person speaking is trying to make a point. They are making, what logicians call "a proposition."

A proposition is their point. It could be anything:

  • I am cold
  • You are late
  • In a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides
  • The cat is on the mat

But, whatever is their main point, you ought to be able to pick it out of what they are saying.

That is not always easy, because some people don't make it easy. Some people talk in such a manner as to obscure their point. Some people speak in ways that are rather difficult to understand. So it is not always easy to find their point.

If in doubt, don't guess. Please ask!

Use this phrase: "Would you please summarise your point, for me, into one sentence?"
Or say this: "For my notes, how would I best summarise all of that, into one sentence?".
Ask yourself "Is there sufficient evidence to convince me this is right, true or good?"

Now you have isolated their "point", then the next question you should be asking is: "Is this persons point, true, or right, or good? What evidence or argument is he, she offering?"

Remember; anyone can claim anything.
But not everything is true. Not everything is good. Not everything is right.
Many claims made by others, are not true.
Some actions are not right.
Some ideas are no good.

You should be trying to sort the various messages into three categories.

Category one: all the good, right and true statements.
Category two: all the false, wrong and untrue statements.
Category three statements: don't know.

For any statements that fall into category three, "I don't know" statements, you should keep asking for more information until you are able to judge whether what the other is claiming is category 1 or 2.

In order to take this step you may have to do the following.

Ask for clarification of any ambiguous terms or any apparent contradictions

Some people are not good at explaining what they mean. So it is not easy for you to decide whether or not what they are saying is a good, right, true, category 1 statement.

This is exacerbated by the fact that language is not exactly specific. There are many words and phrases that can have multiple meanings and so there is always plenty of scope for misunderstanding.


If I said "I didn't say I kissed my wife" does that mean?

"I didn't say I kissed MY wife" or does it mean:

"I didn't say I kissed my WIFE".

Or "I DIDN'T say I kissed my wife".

If there is doubt, check it out.

Try to unpick any ambiguity or multiple meanings.

Warning: this is a difficult task. You will need to concentrate hard.

Ask the "So what? Question"

What consequences for action are there, if any?

Most true statements imply an action.

If I said, "The building is on fire!" the implication is that we should get out of the building.
If I said, "I am hungry", then the implication is "Let us eat".
If I said, "Taxes are too high," then the implication is, "We should vote in a low tax government".

So, especially if you are at work, if you are listening to another person talking, you should ask yourself: "What does this statement mean for any future action?"

I call this the "So what?" question

Ask this question: "So, if what you are saying is true, then what specific action, do you suggest, is necessary?"

Try to visualise (and memorise) the message, as you are hearing it

You should try to cultivate a good memory for what you see and hear.

If you forget all that you are told, if you forget the answers to questions; if you forget the important message she left you, then what would be the painful consequences you would suffer?

It doesn't bear thinking about!

Try to cultivate your listening memory. Memorise what you hear.

You do that by picturing and visualising what you hear. Try to see the words in your mind's eye. Make your visualisations as vivid as you can. Try to make a mental movie of whatever you are hearing. If you cannot picture the message, then this is a cue that the speaker has not made himself clear.

For example if I said, "They stood up and clapped their hands in loud applause," then you can visualise a clear image.

But if I said that, "They expressed their appreciation", then you are not sure what picture to draw in your mind; and therefore you should ask, "How, specifically, did they express their appreciation?"

Try to visualise (and memorise) the message, as you are hearing it. The single act of mental visualisation will aid, both, comprehension and memory.

Try it for yourself.

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