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K-State instructor says listening is most used yet most overlooked form of communication

By Keener A. Tippin II

 

It's a skill that many of us practice, but few of us do well. Yet, when it comes to achieving academic success, it's paramount.

earAccording to a Kansas State University speech instructor, listening is possibly the most over-looked communication skill. Phil Anderson, of K-State's department of speech communication, theater and dance, said although people may hear, listening is something few do very well. Anderson said many people think they know how to listen, but in reality they're often just hearing, not listening.

Anderson defines hearing as the physical ability to accurately hear sounds; listening is the ability to hear sounds including articulated language and to intellectually process that communication and respond accordingly.

"We can listen without having to provide feedback," Anderson said. "Listening requires some sort of feedback or response; it implies some sort of communication between one or more persons.

"Most of our communication is not talking, but listening," Anderson said. "Most of the things we learn, we learn by observing."

According to Anderson, listening not only makes us better communicators, but also better spouses, friends, employees, managers, etc.

"It is important that we learn how to listen so we understand other people; understand how we fit in a world comprised of billions of other people," Anderson said.

While listening is important, Anderson admits it is difficult to learn simply because so many things can get in the way.

"Most of what gets in the way of listening is a mind that is very active," Anderson said. "It's difficult to keep that focus, especially if the message you're hearing is one you don't like, disagree with or makes you think of something else."

Despite its importance, Anderson is not certain how to teach listening.

"It depends on the nature of the conversation," Anderson said. "If, for example, we are talking about a subject we have a mutual interest in, it is easier to listen. But what if we are not talking about something we are both interested in?"

Anderson said often our own biases get in the way of listening. The key, he said, is to find a common ground.

"Maybe one or both of us doesn't want to find that common ground; maybe one or both of us wants to keep that separation or is not willing to find the common ground; that gets in the way of listening," Anderson said. "Hearing something that contradicts or violates what you have grown up to believe as a constant or basic in your life, sometimes that's difficult for people to hear or accept another person's perspective. And yet the only way you are going to solve the problem of war is if you understand the problem from someone else's perspective.

"Somehow, I think we have to learn to look at people, talk to people and listen to people partly from their perspective; understand why they believe or say the things that they say or do."

Summer 2005