The Importance Of Listening
- Listening is a skill. Unfortunately, we are far better talkers
than we are listeners. But you can't be a good speaker without
being a good listener. One skill relies on the other.
- In grievance handling, the shop steward needs to be able to
listen and watch the member and the supervisor. Much of what you
need to know may be conveyed to you through body language or
inference, not in direct speech. Here are some pointers on how to
become a better listener and observer.
- Stop talking--you can't listen while you are talking.
- Empathize with the other person--try to put yourself in his/her
place so that you can see what he/she is trying to get at.
- Ask questions--when you don't understand, when you need further
clarification, when you want to show you are listening. But don't
ask questions that will embarrass or show the other person up.
- Don't give up too soon--don't interrupt the other person; give
him/her time to say what he/she has to say.
- Concentrate on what is said--actively focus your attention on
the words, ideas, and feelings related to the subject.
- Look at the other person--face, mouth, eyes, hands will all
help to communicate with you. Helps you concentrate, too. Makes
the other person feel you are listening.
- Leave your emotions behind (if you can)--try to push your
worries, your fears, your problems, outside the meeting room. They
may prevent you from listening well.
- Control your anger--try not to get angry at what is being said;
your anger may prevent you from understanding what is said.
- Get rid of distractions--put down any papers or pencils you
have in your hands; they may distract your attention.
- Get to the main points--concentrate on the main ideas and not
the illustrative material. Examples, stories, or statistics are
important, but usually are not main points. Examine them only to
see if they prove, support, define the main ideas.
- Share responsibility for communication--only part of the
responsibility rests with the speaker; you as the listener have an
- React to ideas not to the person--don't allow your reactions to
the person influence your interpretation of what is said. The
ideas may be good even if you don't like the person.
- Don't argue mentally--it is a handicap to argue with him/her
mentally as he/she is speaking. This sets up a barrier between you
and the speaker.
- Use the difference in rate--you can listen faster than he/she
can talk, so use this rate difference to your advantage by:
anticipating what he/she is going to say, think back over what
he/she has said, evaluate his development.
- Speech rate is about 100 to 150 words per minute, thinking is
250 to 500.
- Listen to what is not said--sometimes you can learn just as
much by determining what the other person leaves out in his/her
discussion as you can by listening to what he/she says.
- Listen to how something is said--we frequently concentrate so
hard on what is said that we miss the importance of the emotional
reactions and attitudes related to what is said. Attitudes, and
emotional reactions may be more important.
- Don't antagonize the speaker--it may cause the other person to
conceal their ideas, emotions, and attitudes. Try to judge and be
aware of the effect you are having on the other person. Adapt to
- Listen for their personality--one of the best ways of finding
out information about a person is to listen to him/her talk; as
he/she talks you can begin to find out what he/she like and
dislikes, what his/her motivations are, what his/her value system
is and what makes him/her tick.
- Avoid jumping to assumptions--they can get you into trouble.
Don't assume that the speaker uses words the same way you do; that
he/she didn't say what he/she meant, but you understand what he/she
meant; that he/she is avoiding looking you in the eye because
he/she is telling a lie; that he/she is distorting the truth
because what he/she says doesn't agree with what you think; that
he/she is unethical because he/she is trying to win you over to his
point of view. Assumptions like these may turn out to be true, but
more often they just get in the way of your understanding and
reaching agreement or compromise.
- Avoid classifying the speaker--too frequently we classify a
person as one type of person and then try to fit everything he/she
says into what makes sense coming from that type of person. He/she
is a Republican. Therefore, our perceptions of what he/she says or
means are all shaded by whether we like or dislike Republicans.
People have the trait of being unpredictable and not fitting into
- Avoid hasty judgments--wait until all the facts are in (or at
least most of them) before making any judgments.
- Recognize your own prejudices--try to be aware of your own
feelings toward the speaker, the subject, the occasion, and allow
for these pre-judgments.
- Identify the type of reasoning--frequently it is difficult to
sort out good and faulty reasoning when you are listening.
Nevertheless, it is so important a job, that a listener should bend
every effort to learn to spot faulty reasoning when he/she hears
- Evaluate facts and evidence--as you listen, try to identify not
only the significance of the facts and evidence, but also their
relation to argument.
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Copyright © 1999 Transit Employees Association of Texas.