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Listening

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

1. Identify the most to least used modes of communication.

2. Identify the variables that influence arousal level.

3. Give examples of four different types of listening.

4. Identify four different methods of supporting a speaker's points.

5. Evaluate the various propaganda devices.

6. Differentiate between situations requiring critical listening and empathic

7. Explain how "anticipatory set" can be used to improve listening.

8. Explain four ways in which "spare time" can be used to improve listening

 

Ted Koppel, host of the late-evening news program Nightline, isn't a salesperson, but he should be. Like most top salespeople, Koppel is a first-rate listener. Night after night, he interviews government officials, chief executives, and famous entertainers. He strokes their egos, and by striking a balance between attentive listening and incisive questioning, Koppel sells both his guests and his viewers on the idea that he is after the truth (Stettner, 1988, p. 44). Not surprisingly, listening is very important in the business world. In Search of Excellence is the best-selling management book of ail time. The book identifies eight common characteristics of highly successful companies. Being "close to the customer" is one of those eight characteristics, and getting close through better listening is one of the key ingredients for business success.

So the excellent companies are not only better on service, quality, reliability, and finding a niche. They are also better listeners. This is the other half of the close to the customer equation. The fact that these companies are so strong on quality, service, and the rest comes in large measure from paying attention to what customers want. From listening. From inviting the customer into the company. The customer is truly in a partnership with the effective companies, and vice versa. (Peters and Waterman, 1982, p. 196; italics added)

 

We spend more time listening than we spend at any other method of communicating. As early as 1926 it was found that we spend 70 percent of our waking hours communicating—that is, reading, writing, speaking, and listening. When the time spent on these activities was broken down, the results showed that we spend 42 percent of our communicating time listening, 32 percent talking, 15 percent reading, and 11 percent writing (Rankin, 1926).

In a more recent study, Barker et al. (1981) found that college students averaged 53 percent of their waking hours listening (see Figure 6.1). Given students' heavy reading and writing assignments, it seems plausible that the listening percentage for nonstudents is even higher. Research reported by Hargie et al. (1987) confirms the earlier findings. If we spend more time listening than talking, then why is listening a problem?

One study showed that of the four communicative behaviors—speaking, writing, listening, and reading—listening was second only to reading as the least arousing of the four activities. Speaking was the most arousing, then writing, then listening, then reading (Crane et al., 1970). In another study, those who talked most frequently in a small-group discussion were most satisfied with the group discussion, and those who participated least were least satisfied (Bostrom, 1970J? It is obvious that, in general, talking is more enjoyable than listening to someone else talk. This is due to a number of factors including gaining social recognition, maintaining a topic of interest to you, and attracting attention to yourself.

Listening is like physical fitness or wearing seat belts: everybody knows it is desirable but finds it difficult to do on a regular basis. One psychotherapist we know observes that after a session with a patient he is drenched with perspiration and often feels exhausted, and he feels this is primarily the result of intensive listening. It would be hard to listen that intensively through much of every day, but most of us would agree that when it comes to listening, each of us has room for improvement.

An old adage taught to teachers claims that you should state a student's name first and then ask a question. The natural tendency is to ask the question first, then decide who to call on, as in "Who discovered America, Johnny?" The reason for reversing the order is that students often are not listening until they hear their name, so the teacher ends up having to repeat the question. By calling the student's name first, the teacher saves himself or herself some extra effort. This brief example touches on one very important reason for improving listening behavior. Most students spend the vast majority of their class time on the receiving end of a lecture. One study conducted in seventh- to twelfth-grade classes showed that "the chances were about sixty to one that the teacher of a class rather than a particular pupil would be talking at any one time, and two to one that teachers rather than pupils would be talking (Corey, 1966, p. 88). We suspect that this tendency is even more pronounced at the college and university level. The outcome of our basic education, then, is heavily on our ability and willingness to listen.

These findings may be even more important outside the classroom. Most of us, for example, tend to ignore safety instructions that are given at the beginning of an airline flight, but it only takes one emergency to make us realize the importance of having listened to and understood that information.

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