We think the best way to keep cool and calm and dignified is to hear each other and talk to each other.
--Senator Trent Lott, Mississippi, quoted in The New York Times, January 8, 1999

You gain respect by listening.
--Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times and author of From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat, quoted on Meet the Press, July 30, 2006


Listening Takes Work

Listening still remains an art and a science. Listening causes you to make a friend and win a contract. Listening allows your negotiations to go more smoothly. I admire people who listen and listen well. It is the highest form of compliment.

We have to remember that most people forget 75 percent of what they have heard as soon as they leave the classroom. Every attempt has to be made by the instructor and the listener to retain that other 25 percent.

At the moment I am starting to read How to Be a Great Communicator in Person, on Paper, and on the Podium by Nido R. Qubein (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997). In the book Mr. Qubein mentions that most professionals earn between 40 and 80 percent of their pay by listening.

Sensing Requires the Least Work

As you listen in class, think about the S-I-E-R. As we discovered in class, S means Sensing. You become aware someone has said something to you. That is what I call the "Huh?" stage. You think you heard what someone said, but you are not sure. A student experiences this level when he or she exclaims: "What did you just say?" Often, we have heard what the other person has said, but we don't want to acknowledge what we think we heard. It is much easier to ask for clarification before checking one's own listening habits. Always listen to the last part of what someone said, not just the first part. The first part will probably still be remembered. If you ask someone in class to repeat, that person can usually tell you the first part of what was said. That is why it is wise to give oral instructions in short bursts and constantly ask for feedback.

You Begin to Process the Words

The next level of listening, according to Lyman Steil, is interpreting. Interpreting means you hear much more than the words. You begin to process the data. You interpret the listening based on your past experience. You process the words as some kind of coherent thought. For example, I listened to a student say the spelling of his last name, and I was sure the letter of the last name began B. I dutifully wrote "B" on the roster sheet, and the student corrected me. He kept saying "P," and the letter as well as the words of the name were eventually processed. I had reached the Interpreting Level of listening. My listening was still not complete.

You Judge the Words and Actions

When you reach the third level of this listening processing process, you are becoming judgmental. This evaluating phrase allows you to become distracted by the clothes the sender is wearing. You are disturbed by the inflections in the voice and "know-it-all" attitude. Maybe you hear a squeaky voice that turns you against listening. You are still judgmental. Perhaps you do not like the posture of the speaker. The person has his or her hands in the pockets and is trying to persuade you to accept an idea. The speaker constantly taps his fingers on the desk. All these distractions add to an inability to listen to the entire message. Your judgment about the speaker's voice and actions doomed you to failing to listen properly. Suppose in another instance the words of the speaker are inflammatory. You don't like the racist implications or the disparaging comments about one's nationality. You fail to listen to the entire message because you have made up your mind about the words the speaker has uttered.

Responding Reaches Highest Level

When you reach the highest level of listening, responding, you want feedback. You want your ideas responded to. You want to hear whether the other person has truly gotten your message. If you are listening to a speaker, you want to make sure the words you heard were the words meant to be conveyed. How do you achieve this impossible task? You paraphrase what the speaker has said. You put the message in words that make sense to you. You say to the speaker: "Is this what you meant?" The speaker listens to your expression of the content just conveyed. Because you can think so much faster than your speaker can talk, you spend the extra time summarizing in your mind what the speaker has said. You may also take notes. Notes become a form of feedback. I would be lost without my shorthand to hear what speakers have said. Notes also represent a high form of flattery that you care enough to summarize what the speaker has said. Now, notes can be distracting, but they are usually an excellent way to jog one's memory.

Nods Cause Rethinking

When you truly listen, you are listening with your heart and your ear. You are not just hearing the words, as Dr. Alessandra, the famous communications consultant, states that you are listening for the feelings of the other person. I never realized how important the feedback can be with nods. Nido R. Qubein reminds us that a single nod keeps the conversation going. A double nod encourages the speaker to elaborate. However, a triple nod may have a different effect of causing the speaker to change the subject, hesitate in the remarks, or wind down the conversation.

Basketball Coaches Offer Listening Advice

Rick Pitino in his book, Success Is a Choice, points out how important listening is. You would expect him to dwell on this subject, because players have to listen to their coach. Pitino, head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, goes further and shows how listening becomes a dialogue:

"But speaking to one person is totally different. This requires listening, never taking your eyes off that person, conveying the impression that this conversation is very important to you. It is talking in a calm, soothing tone. Here, you are not trying to stir a passion; you are trying to have a dialogue, to listen, to build trust, and to establish a relationship with that person."

Heather Whitestone Sends Us a Powerful Message

The famous Miss America of a few years back, Heather Whitestone, has written her autiobiography called Listening with My Heart. The title immediately caught my interest because of concern with the importance of listening. She describes an early time in her life where the pots and pans fell loudly in the kitchen. Her Grandmother noticed she did not hear those loud clankings. From that time on, Heather was defined as different. Yet, she doesn't consider deafness as a misery:

"Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

That quote suggests Heather understood her family's kindness. To me that is what listening is all about. You do listen with your heart and try the imagine the feelings of someone else. If we did more of that, perhaps the world would be a better place. Heather has been criticized for reading lips, but she operates in a world she understands. In true listening you operate in someone else's world. You have to tune your mind and your heart to that important listening. Heather constantly stresses in her book to follow your dreams. One of your realizable dreams is to appreciate what others are saying.

Debbie Allen Illustrates the Problem of Listening

In a Politically Incorrect program Debbie Allen as one of the guests illustrated the problem of listening. She got caught at the Sensing Level. The panel was discussing the roles of women and men. Debbie, the famous dancer and choreographer, commented that women should not have "rules." The word spoken by the other panelists and Bill Maher was "roles." She hurriedly corrected the wording she had uttered. The problem of listening affects all of us, rich, famous, or ordinary. Roles was a different story.

Mirroring May Not Always Solve Listening

Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) has affected our thinking about listening. Hal Lancaster in one of his Wall Street Journal columns (June 10, 1997) commented that Tony Robbins, the famous motivational specialist and speaker, is famous for bringing together some of the NLP concepts in everyday parlance, including mirroring. Spring Asher of Springworks, Atlanta, believes mirroring allows you to show interest in other people. As I have often commented, listening allows you a chance to climb inside the other person's head. You reflect the other person's actions when you mirror. You mirror how someone else talks and moves. That kind of mirroring could be disconcerting if the other person interpreted your efforts as manipulating. You can, though, with effective mirroring place yourself in a much more influential position.

Mirroring, actually takes more explanation. You want to be "in sync" with the other person who is talking. You want the other person to realize you are trying to bond with that individual (Allan and Barbara Pease, The Definitive Book of Body Language, Bantam Books, 2004, p. 250). We want to move and gesture the way the other person does (Allan and Barbara Pease, p. 250). Allan and Barbara Pease in their comprehensive book about body language phrase the mirroring this way: "Look at me; I'm the same as you." (Allan and Barbara Pease, p. 251). Think about the last baseball game you attended. A certain portion of the grandstand started an inning with a wave. Everyone else responded around the entire stadium, and that was a form of mirroring. For the speaker your mirroring puts the individual "at ease." (Allan and Barbara Pease, p. 252). I will never forget a colleague of mind describing the situation when his wife was in the hospital for painful diabetes. Every time she went to the restroom, he seemed to want to go as well. He was mirroring her emotions, even though he may not have realized it. You should also realize women mirror other women better than men mirror other women, unless these men are in a courtship mode (Allan and Barbara Peaswe, p. 254). Men wear an emotionless mask while listening (Allan and Barbara Pease, p. 255).

Salespeople are most aware of mirroring. Rex Dixon, Director of Sales for Toro Co., Irrigation Division, believes salespeople need to talk less and listen more. The process of selling, according to Dixon, starts when a salesperson pays attention to what people are saying and how they are saying it. I soon found out this maxim when doing commission selling during my early college days.

One caution: never mirror a person's negative signals (Allan and Barbara Pease, p. 264). Also, never mirror how the boss is sitting.

Remains Par Excellence Listening Author

Whenever I need to refer to listening concepts, I turn to Lyman Steil, who developed the S-I-E-R formula for listening. In his co-authored book, Listening: It Can Change Your Life, he quotes from William Hartzell, vice president of engineering at RCA, about the plaque Hartzell places to remind us of listening:

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Wall Street Journal Maintains Listening Takes Time

Our hurried society is forgetting its listening skills. Remember in the film, The Power of Listening, when the driver has an accident because he was not paying attention to sirens and the lights? His listening skills were poor. Kathy Thompson, Alverno College, Milwaukee, believes people want you to get to the point. To echo Thompson's sentiments, Wicke Chambers, partner, Speechworks, Atlanta, thinks people believe listening is boring. It is more fun to talk than to listen. Sheila Bentley, Memphis, Tennessee consultant, goes even further and blames the television and its commercials for causing people to avoid listening. We can easily tune out. Attending skills, as Sheila calls them, do not have to be developed when you can tune out the commercials.

As we mentioned in class, we can easily talk at 120 to 150 minutes a minute and process at least 500 words a minute. That leaves a great deal of time for daydreaming or pondering other matters. As a society, we are slowly realizing that many of our problems can be blamed on poor listening. Starbucks Coffee Co., the famous concern started in Seattle, even makes its employees interpret the orders received with a certain sequence of words to avoid poor listening. The employees describe the drink: size, flavoring, milk, decaf, and so forth. A spokesman for Starbucks was quoted in the July 10 The Wall Street Journal about the importance of listening: "We expect our employees to listen. It's an important component of customer service."

Lyman Steil, often quoted in our class and developer of S-I-E-R, believes we must make choices about our listening. According to Steil, the listeners of today must make careful choices about "who, what, and when they listen." He is now president of Communication Development, a St. Paul, Minnesota consulting firm.

Is listening a skill or something you are born with? I believe, along with many authorities in listening, that the subject can be taught, especially the S-I-E-R. You have to get rid of your prejudices, according to the July 10, 1997 The Wall Street Journal. You have to put your ego aside, according to this same article. People want to be listened to; it is a universal need. I liked the euphemism in the July 10 article for obnoxious interrupting, "uncooperative overlap." You want your idea out faster than the other person.

Ms. Thompson from that same Alverno College believes we have become a nation of interrupters. If you get out the first idea in a meeting, you have captured the audience. People want credit for their ideas, The Wall Street Journal reports. You have to pause and listen to the other person. Suppose someone takes all your time and does not know when to end the conversation. Lyman Steil recommends you firmly state: "I'm sorry, I'd love to talk more, but I have work to do."

The July 10 article pleads for a world of better listeners. We need a win-win situation where everyone gains by better listening. Secure a copy of the article at your library; you will find The Wall Street Journal article, "Blah, Blah, Blah: The Crucial Question for These Noisy Times May Just Be: 'Huh?' "well worth the trouble to read and absorb.

Boring Subjects Do Not Interest Me

In looking over the questionnaires submitted at the beginning of a semester, I am always struck by the folks who admit they do not like to listen if the subject is boring. You should adopt the attitude that no subject is too boring for you to listen closely. Once you perpetuate the myth you only need to listen to what is interesting, you are losing a great deal of what is said in life.

We do not always have to like everything someone says. You may be upset with what someone says. You may not like the wording of the sender. Still, listen for the key idea. Listen to the way the information is delivered. Listen for what is not said. Above all, never think that any subject is beneath your comprehension or your appreciation. You can learn from the most boring speaker. It is harder; nevertheless, you can learn. You can't afford sensory overload, as one student phrased it. The essence of the message has to be remembered at any cost. Ask more questions if you are getting a sensory overload. Pin down the specifics without all the verbiage. That listening may save your career or your job.

Listening Memo Needs Example

Certain students have asked me to create an example of a listening memo and the parts to that memo. Naturally, you have the expanded syllabus to help you with the initial planning. A listening memo is built as you would expect any memo to be built. You are concerned in the first paragraph with the 5 W's: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. First, you have to tell the reader the purpose of your memo.

To:       Dr. G. Jay Christensen (the reader)  

From: Your name (in full)-Don't forget initials (handwritten) after your name. e-mail:

Date: Current Date (all spelled out)--e.g. March 12, 19-


Bill Wants Class

This memo concerns a conversation with Bill Templeton on August 28, current year. Bill discussed his concerns about the class in Business Building 1234. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and Bill relayed he would be willing to audit the class. He said he already possessed the degree.

Bill Recognizes Importance of Listening

Bill explained how he had come from Singapore where he had received his undergraduate education. Mr. Templeton appeared pleased with the education he had received overseas. With head nods I noticed immediately we were communicating. He laughed about our discussion of S-I-E-R. He said he looks on responding as the culmination of the listening activity. After agreeing with his analysis, I suggested the Responding part of listening means the message has been heard.

Bill Relays Experiences

Bill then told me more about experiences working on campus. At the moment he works for Financial Aid. He likes his job as a staff accountant. Bill has gone to California State, Northridge, for about 10 years. He believes this campus offers many opportunities for the serious student. We discussed again how auditing might suit his schedule more if he cannot officially enroll in the class. I explained the possible auditing of the class should be checked out.

Bill through his smiling showed how much he was enjoying the conversation. His firm handshake and his ability to communicate ideas provided an immediate plus. We shook web to web. Bill impressed me as someone who cares about his learning.

Bill Sells Ideas

From my initial observation Bill was trying to sell ideas about his position and the need to enter the class. He had already explained to me he never took a business communication course in Singapore. He persuaded me with forceful ideas about wanting to enroll. Mr. Templeton brought forth his strong points and his confidence.

Speaker Avoids Certain Points

Bill might have told me during the conversation why business communication was not offered in the colleges in Singapore. I wanted to know how he obtained his business communication knowledge for the staff accountancy position. Bill might have told me how long he has been in the United States. That information would have helped me better understand Bill's cultural heritage. You can learn a great deal about a person, as I have always believed, by careful listening. You make a friend by listening.

Thinking about the questions the speaker may not have considered somewhat eludes me. Why was Bill so intent on taking that particular night class? Why has Bill waited so long to consider taking a business communication course? What has Bill done on his own to learn about business communication principles? Have his colleagues at work helped him learn new and important knowledge about communication? A short conversation does not always allow all the questions answered the receiver expects.

Gestures Were Mirrored

Mirroring became hard to grasp. I did notice Bill nodding and smiling considerably. Mirroring that action became appropriate, because Bill comes from a part of Southeast Asia where these nonverbal gestures are used. We seemed to communicate because of careful listening to each other. This assignment has taught me the importance of listening and making friends wherever possible.

To: Dr. G. Jay Christensen
Page 2
Date: August 28, Current Year

Excellent Listening Requires Work

You asked what I learned about my listening habits. Too many of us are only satisfied with the Sensing level of listening. Asking a number of questions elicited the necessary feedback. The toughest part of listening for me still remains the Interpreting level. The data have to be processed and processed correctly. My wife always accuses me of being a poor listener because of that interpreting level. We need to shut out all distractions to listen effectively. When listening to Bill, I made sure we were not in the Atrium and, for sure, discussing our common concerns in a fairly deserted classroom. That effort aided the listening process. As you probably realize, a person must spend a lifetime trying to become an excellent listener.

Attachments: Notes
Bonus Question

To think about:

  1. Did you notice how carefully the talking captions were written?
  2. Did you note how the 5 W's were employed in the first paragraph?
  3. Did you notice how the nonverbal communication was introduced in succeeding paragraphs?
  4. Did you notice how every effort was made to eliminate and subordinate "I's"?
  5. Did you spot how the Mortimer Adler questions and their answers were woven in the narrative?
  6. Did you note how the final paragraph provided a kind of summary and a review of one's listening habits?
  7. Did you note how the attachments section was used?
  8. Did you remember to put your initials beside your name on the "From" line?
  9. Did you remember to provide full caps for the "Subject" line?
  10. Did you notice how every attempt was made to use active verbs?
  11. Did you notice how the second and succeeding pages (format) of a memo are handled?

Last updated Thursday, August 31, 2006

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