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Listening

OBJECTIVES

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.

Importance

Although it is somewhat of a truism that listening is important, it is worth docu­menting the various ways in which listening can help us. Floyd (1985) identifies three such areas of importance: job success, self-protection (such as in the safety instructions mentioned above), and other affirmation (the very act of choosing to listen to someone is highly confirming).

Our listening behaviors can also determine our social and professional success. Think of the impression vou get.of a.person who makes what he thinks is an original comment but is merely repeating what was uttered only moments before by another in the group. Similarly, many on-the-job mistakes result from the employee's not having paid attention to the instructions given by the super­visor. Even your self-concept may be affected by your listening ability.

McCormack (1984, p. 9) tells the story of how Pepsi-Cola had tried to get Burger King to use their product and had assumed that Burger King would never dream of dropping Coca-Cola. After approaching Burger King with a new product strategy concept, which linked Pepsi and Burger King, the Pepsi people were told, "We've been trying to tell you that for months. I'm glad someone finally listened."

On numerous occasions people have reported feeling inferior when, after attending a lecture they hear their friends discussing issues that the group had "heard" but that they themselves had missed through inattentive listening. Whether the goal to be achieved is an education, social, or professional success, or even the maintenance of one's own self-esteem, as the situation increases in importance, the need to listen more effectively also becomes more vital.

Hunt and Cusella (1983) surveyed training managers in 106 Fortune 50(3 companies and found that they perceived ineffective listening to be one of the most important problems facing them. They felt that ineffective listening leads to lower productivity and ineffective performance. Interestingly, it was also found that many employees resist training in listening because they mistakenly believe they already listen well enough. Finally, training managers rated "active listening" topics as more important than "recall listening" topics for listening training. Recall listening is what students often refer to as "regurgitation" or simply rote memorization of the other person's message. Active listening implies much more intense listening as well as sensitivity to the other person's nonverbal cues so that the unspoken message is an important part of the "listening/perceiving" process.

In another study, Wolvin (1984) found that adult learners perceive listening as the single most important job-related communication skill, and also ranked listening first in importance for family and social settings.

Supporting these commonsense notions, Joe Girard (1977), who is the "world's greatest salesman" according to the Guinness Book of World Records, makes the following comment:

The commonest reason for losing a customer who seemed really interested is not listening enough.... If you don't spend enough time and concentration on that, you are going to miss something that guy is telling you. ...You can learn a lot more by watching and listening than you can by talking, (p. 170)

In Chapter 1 we presented a communication model, and we also discussed the importance of active participation by the parties involved in the communication event. For the communicative cycle to be complete, the party receiving a message must respond accordingly. Without effective listening, the appropriateness of a receiver's response is severely diminished. Both from a practical and theoretical standpoint, then, effective listening becomes a vital element in human communication.

What Is Meant

One reason for misconceptions about "listening" stems from the ambiguity of the term. Listening is actually a complex process involving four elements: (1) hearing, (2) attention, (3) understanding, and (4) remembering. Thus, a suitable definition of listening would be "the selective process of attending to, hearing, understanding, and remembering aural symbols."

Hearing

The first element in the listening process is hearing, which is the automatic physiological process of receiving aural stimuli. It is at this stage that a defect in a person's physical hearing apparatus may cause difficulty in the listening process. Human speech frequencies range from 125 to 8,000 cycles per second; most words fall between 1,000 and 7,500 cycles per second, which is the critical range of auditory ability (Brooks, 1981, p. 82).

Typically, sound waves are received by the ear and stimulate neurological impulses to the brain. However, any physical defect that interrupts this normal chain of events can result in a hearing difficulty. Some research indicates that very loud sound (measured in decibels) can and does produce both temporary and permanent hearing losses. For example, excessively loud rock music has been found to produce hearing losses in listeners.

The human ear can cope with 55 to 85 decibels. However, rock concerts can pose a problem because the noise level can reach as high as 100 decibels (the level of a plane taking off). Government regulations are now in effect in industry to ensure that workers are protected from hearing losses that might otherwise result from loud industrial noises. For the most part, if we assume that our hearing apparatus is functioning properly, problems in listening do not typically stem from problems in hearing.

Hearing does, however, play an important part in listening. Three events take place if hearing occurs properly. First, the receiver isolates sounds correctly. Thus as children we learn t© discriminate between the sounds of an s and a th, an m and an n, a / and a d. For those who do not learn to discriminate properly between and among these distinct sounds, speech and hearing therapists are available to help. Even children who do not require therapy often confuse speech sounds and substitute similar sounding letters (e.g., "shish" for "fish") or they may drop the sounds that they do not hear (e.g., "tore" for "store"). Eventually, most people learn to discriminate properly between and among different speech sounds.

Second, we place these sounds in a meaningful order or sequence so that they may be recognized as words. Third, we recognize words in a pattern that constitutes a language, which then helps to convey the message from the communicator to us.

Another factor in hearing is the speaker's rate. The average speaker's rate is between 100 and 150 words per minute. However, the research on compressed speech shows that most of us are able to comprehend rates up to 400 to 500 words per minute.

Although the ability to process information four times faster than the average person speaks would seem to be an advantage, it turns out that it is instead a part of the problem in that three-fourths of our listening is "spare time." This means that we are able to comprehend what we hear much more quickly than a speaker is able to articulate his or her thoughts; thus we may get bored and begin to daydream. This fact tends to account for the findings that show speaking to be more interesting than listening. Later in this chapter we will look at ways of using our "spare time" to improve our listening ability.

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