Good Listening Skills for One on One or in a Lecture

Published: 12th March 2012
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We have done it every day of our lives, ever since early childhood. It is something we rarely think about when we're doing it, but it is just as important as sharing our thoughts to with others. It is a form of communication just as much as talking is. Listening is an art which we all, including the author, can improve on. Studies show that people remember only 25 percent of what they hear. That means that we are only truly listening to a quarter of the information, thoughts, or feelings being told us. Good listening skills are important for success in college, in business meetings, in careers, and in relationships.

Many marriages can be repaired when couples listen to each other. John Gottman, psychology professor of the University of Washington, learned after 25 years of studying marriages that "active listening" is highly important in solving conflicts (2). We will be looking at two types of listening: listening one on one and listening in an audience. Actively listening to a lecture or speech can be very rewarding as opposed to merely hearing a speech. The difference between listening and hearings is that hearing is just letting sound enter your ear, while listening is paying close attention to what is being said.

We will focus first on listening in an audience. Listening to a speaker, such as a professor, is highly important if you want to succeed at your class or job. Companies lose thousands of dollars each year due to poor communication. According to a study by SIS International Research, roughly 70 percent of the employees of a business waste an average of 17.5 hours each week dealing with problems caused by poor communication (1). That's a huge chunk of time and money lost! So, how can we improve our listening skills? A study conducted by Larry Vandergrift, a University of Ottawa researcher, revealed some interesting facts about how to improve listening skills in the auditorium.

The following seven points will help you be a better listener of a lecture (1):

1. Have goals for what you want to learn from the lecture or speech. Before you go to the lecture, predict what you think the speaker is going to say and think about what you would like to learn from the speech.

2. Before going to the speech, mentally review what you know about the topic of the speech. Your knowledge is a foundation which you can then build on. When you review your knowledge on the subject before the speech, you'll be more aware of how the new information from the speech fits in with what you already know. This makes it easier to learn. Learning based on past knowledge is important for progress.

3. When you listen to the speech, listen for what is important or relevant to you and take notes. The things that stand out to you are important, and writing them down is a must. Often, we can't easily remember everything we've heard.

4. Don't get distracted. The people around you text messaging, the speaker's resemblance to someone you know, the people standing up and leaving the lecture, and your own thoughts can cause you to get easily sidetracked. Don't let them. Keep your eyes on the speaker and your thoughts on what is being said and what it means.

5. Don't get thrown off by confusing or unfamiliar ideas, words, or details. Many professors and some speakers use words that are unfamiliar. Or, they may talk about things that go over your head. The key is to not be distracted from the points the speaker is trying to make.

6. Take note of those unfamiliar words, details, or ideas and try to make inferences as to what they might mean. Your knowledge of the subject and the context of the speech can provide clues as to what those things might mean. Say that a person is unfamiliar with the word energetic. A lecturer says, "The humming bird is a highly energetic animal. It moves from flower to flower, beating its wings at a rate of 50 times per second." Just from the context, the person listening can guess that the word energetic is related to being physically active and hyper.

7. Ask questions if there is a question-and-answer period. Ask specific questions about what is unfamiliar or confusing to you. Don't be afraid of what people might think of you for asking. You might be surprised at how many other people had the same questions.

Summing up the key points for listening to a lecture, the most important thing to remember is that listening is about paying close attention to the information presented and consciously trying to understand it.

While having good listening skills in the auditorium are important, one-on-one listening skills are just as, or even more, important. We talk to and listen to people every day of our lives. Co-workers, customers, supervisors, friends, family, and strangers will tell us things nearly every day of our lives and expect us to listen to them, and vice versa. Having good communications skills are important in one-on-one or in group conversations. Many people know how to talk, but studies show that few of us, including the author, find it easy to always actively listen. Bosses get frustrated at employees who failed to carry out instructions because they didn't actively listen. Being able to actively listen will improve your relationships with other people and your performance at work.

For the sake of simplicity, let's pretend that you have a friend named Alex who wants to tell you about his (or her, if you like) vacation to Hawaii. Here are 7 known elements for being a good listener, one-on-one:

1. Pay attention. Look at the speaker (Alex) and pay attention to his (or her) body language. Alex's posture, hand gestures, facial expressions, and stance can change the way his words are meant to be taken. Also, looking at the Alex's eyes and face shows him that you are truly interested in what he is saying. If you look away too often, you might make Alex feel that you do not really care about what he is saying.

2. Show that you are listening. Every so often, nod your head and say brief comments, such as "yes" and "uh huh". Be open and inviting and remember to show it with your body language. Just as Alex's body language gives you clues about what he (or she) means, your body language gives him clues about you. For instance, looking away and tapping your foot on the ground might show Alex that you are bored.

3. Make sure you understand what is being said by asking questions. Your asking questions will show Alex that you are genuinely interested in what he (or she) has to say. Also, asking questions is important so that you do not misunderstand what is being said. For example, you could say, "Alex, it sounds like you are saying…. Did I hear that right?" Miscommunication causes a lot of problems in relationships. So many arguments or damaged relationships could be resolved by actively listening and asking clarifying questions.

4. Don't interrupt the speaker. Hearing Alex out is important because you may have heard something he (or she) said that offended you. As you listen to Alex speak, you may learn that it was not what you first thought. Interruptions can also be frustrating to Alex, especially if he has something important to say. Allow Alex to finish and don't interrupt with arguments or with attempts to change the direction of the conversation.

5. Don't get distracted. Your cell phone, the background music, and your own thoughts can all take away your attention from the conversation. You wouldn't want someone to get distracted when you have something important to share. The key is to treat other people as you would want to be treated: a point that Jesus Christ made in the Bible.

6. Try not to get bored. When you are bored with the conversation, Alex will probably sense it. Being bored doesn't help you to establish a good relationship with the speaker. When you are bored with the conversation, maintain eye contact and try to put yourself in Alex's shoes. Try to see the topics Alex is telling you about from his (or her) eyes and not your own.

7. When the speaker is finished talking, respond appropriately, respectfully, and honestly. Maintain eye contact and state your opinions respectfully. Alex is expecting some kind of response. If you disagree with him (or her), respectfully tell Alex that you disagree. Don't lie about your opinions. If you are being told to do something by your boss, repeat the tasks he (or she) gave you or the points he wanted you to understand and let him know that you will do those tasks as soon as possible. The main idea of responding appropriately is to let the speaker (Alex or your boss) know that you understand and have listened to what he (or she) has said.

Following these guidelines for active listening in a large audience or one on one may not be easy at first, but, with practice, they are possible. To sum up what we have read, a good listener must pay close attention to what is being said, be willing to learn, and demonstrate that he or she is listening. Being an active listener will make a positive impact on your relationships, your studying skills, and your efficiency at work.


(1) Paul, Annie Murphy. "The Power of Smart Listening." Time Inc, 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
(2) "Uw Study Shows Power Sharing Important In Marriages." The Daily of the University of Washington, 9 March 1998. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

Other Works Consulted:

"Why investing in effective business communication makes sense." Logos Noesis, 8 April 2011. Web. 24 Feb.2012.
Lockwood, Jean. "How to Listen Well." Demand Media, Inc, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
"Active Listening: Hear what people are really saying." Mind Tools Ltd, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
Gray, Dave. "How to listen." Blogger, 8 Nov. 2005. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
"Effective Listening Skills - An essential for good communication.", n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.

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