Listening Skills

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Employers rank verbal communication skills highly as necessary assets for the worker in the new economy. And these skills include writing and speaking -- which we have already discussed in is blog -- as well as listening and reading. This posting deals with the skill of listening: why it's important , and how best to teach it.

The employee who can't listen well seldom understand directions, seems uninterested in what other people are saying, and has trouble participating as a member of a collaborative work group. No matter what your station in the hierarchy of workers, you need to be able to listen, and to appear as if you are listening carefully, and to understand the import of what you are listening to, in order to be successful. In fact, the higher you move up the chain of command, the more important it is to be a good listener.

Hearing vs. listening

When someone says, "Are you talking to me?," that means that they have heard you, but they might not have been listening. We hear many things all the time as we work, but we listen to few of them. Right now as I ride on the commuter train I hear three conversations between my fellow riders, one popular song from someone's iPod, the rumbling of the wheels beneath the floor, and the click of the conductor's punch as he takes the tickets. But I am listening to none of these; my attention is focused on writing this posting.

The first component of good listening skills is to decide which of all the aural distractions you will attend to. I'm many work situations, you need to tune out some sounds in order to focus on others. The human brain is very good at this, but it needs to be trained in how to tune things in and out successfully.

On e focused, you need to listen actively. The very successful KIPP charter schools teach this explicitly, drilling their students in the SLANT method:

  • Sit up.
  • Listen.
  • Ask and Answer.
  • Nod.
  • Track the speaker.

Not only is the SLANTer more likely to understand what's going on, they will appear to others to be listening actively and seriously. People who do this are more effective as workers and citizens.

Teaching Listening

In school, we focus on listening to the teacher in class. But this is one minor aspect of the kind of listening needed in the modern workforce. Outside of schools, we seldom sit in a room with 24 others listening to a teacher. We spend much more time listening to a customer on the telephone, or in a small group conversing with peers, or hearing a client describe exactly the functionality she needs in a new product. We need to include these kinds of listening experiences for our stats, if we are to prepare them for the modern workforce.

How do you teach listening?

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