Improving Listening Skills
You hear the zookeeper talk about safe snake handling. Then the last sentence gets your attention: “So make sure you do that when I put her around your neck.”
Uh-oh. You heard him give instructions, but you weren’t listening.
“Um, sir, could you repeat what I should do?”
He does, and you listen. Listening involves not just your ears, but also your brain. You focus your attention and actively try to understand.
Now the snake is around your neck. Let’s hope you listened!
Becoming a Good Listener
Because we are human, we don’t always listen. We get distracted. We daydream. We sometimes hear people without actually listening to them. So how can you become a better listener, both in and out of school? Here’s a whole page of suggestions.
- Listen with a positive attitude; you’ll learn more.
- Listen with your eyes as well as your ears; you’ll hear more if you look at the speaker.
- Listen for the main ideas; you’ll stay on track.
- Listen for the speaker’s tone of voice; you’ll get the true meaning.
- Listen for specific directions; you’ll know what you’re supposed to do.
- Listen for key words (first/second, before/after, next/then); you’ll keep things in the right order.
- Take notes or make drawings; you’ll remember things longer.
- Think about what you hear; you’ll understand better if you relate new ideas to what you already know.
Express Yourself After listening carefully to what others have to say, ask questions and share your thoughts. Also listen carefully when you are working in a group. (See page 415.)
Avoiding Listening Problems
When you listen, especially in groups, you will want to avoid the following bad habits or pitfalls.
- Daydreaming. Don’t think about what you’ll be doing after school or what to get your friend for her birthday. Keep your mind on the person speaking.
- Becoming emotional. Sometimes you may get distracted by what the speaker is saying. Maybe it sounds like a great idea, and you want to talk about it rather than continue to listen. Or maybe it upsets you, and you want to disagree. Keep your cool and keep listening.
- Interrupting. If your thoughts can wait, avoid interrupting the speaker. But sometimes you can’t wait. Maybe you are confused and need to ask for clarification. That’s okay, but ask politely.
- Taking too many notes. It’s actually possible to take too many notes. It’s important to take good notes, but that means writing down only the essential information, not every last detail.
- Taking too few notes. Just as taking too many notes is not a good idea, neither is taking too few. Sometimes listeners get so caught up in what is being said that they forget to take notes. That can be a problem, especially when it comes to reviewing for tests.
- Doing other things. When you are supposed to be listening, give the speaker your full attention. Don’t work on your math assignment when a classmate is giving a report or draw cartoons when the teacher is giving a history lesson (unless the cartoon is about the topic).