1. Have you ever thought of listening as something you could do right or wrong? Few people had, until recently. Now it is being proved that most of us aren't letting our ears do all they should to help us. And we are losing out in ways both large and small, which is too bad when we realize that good listening can be very valuable indeed. In fact it is surprising just how big a part our two listening ears play in our success in school, in our careers, in our relations with family and friends.
2. Therefore, how we listen is extremely important. Yet it has been proved that most of us are guilty of from one to nine bad listening habits.
3. Few of us want to be poor listeners or even realize that we are—until we meet up with situations which show us.
4. Take Janet, for instance.
5. It came as a horrid shock to her to learn on the way to Sunday school one morning that she was to have read certain chapters in the Bible and be prepared with a little talk on them that day. And no wonder Janet was surprised. She thought she had been listening in class the week before. But apparently the words had bounced right off her ears. Why? How had she listened wrong?
6. There are about nine ways of listening that net us nothing but trouble, according to Dr. Ralph Nichols of the University of Minnesota. If we recognize and try to conquer them, we can step up our listening ability by about twenty-five percent and thereby greatly increase our chances for success in our daily lives.
7. Unless you are very unusual indeed, says Dr. Nichols, you must plead guilty to several of the following bad listening habits:
8. Daydream Listening: You can think about four times as fast as the average person speaks. So you have quite a bit of spare thinking time while waiting for the words to come in. Unconsciously, you use this time, if you are a poor listener, to let your thoughts drift elsewhere.
9. For instance, your teacher is giving you some background material on American history. Your mind is with him at first. Then other thoughts drift into that spare thinking space. Without warning, they have taken over your mind entirely…… I mustn't forget to go downtown after school for Mother. If only my bike was fixed! Maybe I can get Joe to come over Saturday and help me…… Your thoughts drift on. Suddenly, with a jolt, you hear these words: "Now we'll have a little test on what I have been explaining." Ouch!
10. So what to do to keep daydreams from filtering in? One way is to put that extra thinking time to work—on the subject. Sum up what the speaker is saying; look for major points. Pretend you are going to have to repeat his ideas. Put his words into your words. It isn't easy. It takes effort and time to learn. But the results are sure to surprise and please you.
11. Shut-Ear Listening: Maybe you feel you already know what the speaker is going to say. Or his subject couldn't interest you less. You turn off your ears—and who knows what you may be missing or when a little knowledge on that subject may come in mighty handy? Anyway, why take the risk?
12. "That's-What-You-Think" Listening: You have your own pet ideas on certain subjects. You don't like to hear anything which might make you question them. So when anyone begins arguing on the other side, you simply stop listening. Instead you plan what you are going to answer. Anyone who refuses too often to listen to the other side of a question risks becoming narrow-minded—an exasperating and unattractive trait in the other fellow. Is it any more becoming to you? No thanks, you say, and decide to hear the other fellow out. Maybe he is right. Maybe you are. But you can give him a better argument on your viewpoint if you hear what he says.
13. Fake Listening: You pretend to be giving close attention. You toss in a few nods and yeses at the right moments, you hope. This is a common faulty listening habit that fools no one. Your eyes give you away, if your absent-minded answers don't. And can you think of anything more infuriating than to be given the same treatment? Also, it is extremely difficult to respond satisfactorily to words you didn't hear. Good conversations, if not friendships, have been sacrificed to this habit.
14. Over-My-Head2 Listening: You are convinced that the subject is beyond you, so you depart, at least in spirit. You may be right. And then again you may be wrong. If you let the words enter your mind, you may be surprised to discover that they make sense. But even if they are as strange as Greek to you, you should try to listen and understand. Otherwise you may find some day that you must attempt to grasp an over-your-head idea and be totally unable even to try.
15. Memory Test Listening: Some people think that trying to memorize a series of facts is good listening. They are wrong. For instance, you are getting a story for your school paper on an assembly speaker. He makes a series of points. You try to memorize them. But while you are busy planting facts A, B, and C in your mind, repeating them over and over, you are losing out on facts D and E. Better to look for main ideas. You will find them more useful and easier to recall later.
16. Take-It-All-Down Listening: When you try to get too many of the speaker's words on paper, part of your mind must be concerned with your note-taking. You are unable to concentrate fully on what he is saying. You risk losing valuable points. Where note-taking is necessary—and you may be surprised to find out how often it isn't if you concentrate fully on listening—try to jot down only a memory-jogging word or two. Or put the main ideas on paper after the speaker has finished. The more complete attention you give the speaker, the easier it will be to recall his ideas later.
17. Personality Listening: You become so concerned with the way the speaker looks or how he talks that what he says fails to penetrate. Perhaps unconsciously you decide that a person who dresses or speaks like that can't have much to say. That could be a very false conclusion. Who knows what you may be missing? It's the old story: you can't judge a gift by the package. Better to judge him after you have heard him out.
18. Half-An-Ear Listening: Often other sounds compete for your attention—and win. Your father gives you a list of errands. But his voice must compete with, say, your favorite song on the radio. Later, you find that half an ear wasn't enough. You didn't listen to your father's words closely enough to hear and remember them. You have to telephone home for a repeat performance. And you can't really blame your father for being irritated. Better to turn off the radio, shut the door on competing noises, if possible. If not, guard against your tendency to listen to distracting sounds.
19. So there are the forces—some within ourselves, some outside—that work against us in our efforts to listen. But once we learn what they are and how to fight them, we are well on our way to getting rid of wasteful listening habits.