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Listening Is an Ignored Communication Skill

Aug 17, 2007
Many students feel that listening is merely hearing. But as many of us know, merely letting words pour into our ears is not listening. Yet, listening is the most used technique of learning.

To assist you in becoming a better listener, you should consider a set of rules called LISAN. The letters of this mnemonic device stand for the key words in five rules for successful listening:
Lead, don't follow--Anticipate what's going to be said
Ideas? Look for them
Signals--Watch for them
Active, not passive involvement
Notes--Take them and then organize them
The first letter in LISAN reminds you to LEAD instead of following. Leading involves two steps:
First, read chapter assignments before your class. If you read before you hear the lecture you will be more alert to important ideas, names and words. You will anticipate them.

Secondly, think up questions to keep yourself in the forefront . These are not questions that you ask your teacher, but ones around which you will plan your listening.

The I in LISAN tells you to look for the IMPORTANT ideas. Many professors will introduce a couple new ideas and provide explanation, examples and additional support for them. Your task is to identify the main ideas. The professor may come back to the similar couple of ideas again and again. Being aware of them beforehand will help you to "listen".

The S in LISAN reminds you to listen for the SIGNAL words. A good speaker uses signals to relay what he is going to say. Common signs that these are coming up are:
To introduce an example: "for example" "There
are five reasons why...."

To signal support material: "For
instance...." "Similarly...." "In
contrast...." "On the other hand..."

To signal a summary or
conclusion: "Therefore..." "In
conclusion...." "Finally...." "As a
result...."

To signal importance: "Now this is very
important...." "Remember that...."

The A in LISAN reminds you to be an ACTIVE listener. Listening is not just soaking up sound. To be an effective listener, you need to be active and not passive. This can be done in a couple or ways:

First, use the situation in the classroom for active listening. Sit close enough (front 1/3 of the room, near center) to see and hear the teacher as well as be seen and heard by him. Remember, the further away you are from the teacher, the greater the chance of not being able to hear everything correctly. An empty room is easy to hear sounds in, but when that room is filled with others, sound tends to get "consumed" and lost the further it is from its source. Add to that normal classroom noises, outside noises, fans and air conditioning units, heaters, etc., and the chances of hearing the entire lecture properly decreases.

Second, retain eye contact. The eyes can add a lot to the story. A teacher can tell whether you're "getting it" or not simply by looking at you, especially, your eyes. And, it is quite difficult to fall asleep when looking someone directly in the eyes, so your ability to concentrate should increase!

Third, let the teacher know you are listening. Ask and answer questions to nodding in understanding or smiling appropriately at your instructor's attempts at humor.

Fourth, ask questions for active listening.

Fifth, resist distractions. Keep reminding yourself that you are listening to someone else. Keep your brain focused and fill in what you think they mean.

Six, use thought speed. Your mind works much faster than the speaker can talk; some studies report that the rate of the brain is almost 4 times that of regular speech, which often explains why daydreaming during a lecture occurs so often. Anticipate and sum up what has been said. Anticipate where the instructor is going with the lecture.

Seven, fight back against distractions. If necessary, sit apart from friends or other classmates that might distract you. Do not sit at the back of the room or near the door; hallway noises and noises from other classrooms are more common at these points.

The N is LISAN reminds you to take NOTES. In everyday conversation we mentally interpret, classify, and summarize what is said. In classroom learning, we do this more effectively by keeping written notes. Taking notes helps us to "hear" by providing organization to what we are hearing. It is quite difficult to listen to and remember unorganized and unrelated bits of information.

One, if you heard someone shout out "nd, tckl, grd, cntr, hlf bk, fl bk, qrtr bk" you would find it tricky to listen and remember it.

Two, staying organized is the key to effective listening and remembering. The above letters are the names of player positions on a football team with the vowels omitted.

Third note taking is the way you find the orderliness. Good note taking means "getting" the underlying structure of what is heard, discovering the skeleton of ideas on which the professor has built his lesson.

Fourth and finally, good note taking is eighty percent listening and twenty percent writing, so don't ever worry about your penmanship or writing getting in the way of listening.
About the Author
Jane Saeman runs an In-Home Tutoring service called Aim High Tutors. Find out about how to help your student reach their full potential at http://www.aimhightutors.com/blog
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