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How to Be a Good Listener

Listening Is Where Studying Begins

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When was your last meaningful conversation?

Meaningful Conversation

Andreas Pollock / Getty Images
Listening is a study skill most of us take for granted. Listening is automatic, isn’t it?

We might think we’re listening, but active listening is something entirely different. Think of how much easier it would be to study for tests, to write papers, to participate in discussions, when you know you have really heard everything important that was said in the classroom, not only by your teacher, but also by other students actively engaged in learning.

It may sound silly, but active listening can be exhilarating. You might be surprised by how much you have missed in the past when your mind has gone off on errands like what to make for dinner or what your sister really meant when she said... You know what I'm talking about. It happens to everyone.

Learn how to keep your mind from wandering.

We've got some tips here for you, plus a listening test at the end. Test your listening skills and then start practicing active listening in the classroom. It’s where your studying begins.

Three Kinds of Listening

There are three levels of listening:

  1. Half Listening
    • Paying attention some; tuning out some.
    • Focusing on your reaction.
    • Commenting to others.
    • Waiting for a chance to break in.
    • Distracted by personal thoughts and what’s going on around you.
    • Doodling or texting.

  2. Sound Listening
    • Hearing the words, but not the meaning behind them.
    • Missing the significance of the message.
    • Responding with logic only.

  3. Active Listening
    • Ignoring distractions.
    • Ignoring delivery quirks and focusing on the message.
    • Making eye contact.
    • Being aware of body language.
    • Understanding the speaker’s ideas.
    • Asking clarifying questions.
    • Recognizing the speaker’s intent.
    • Acknowledging the emotion involved.
    • Responding appropriately.
    • Remaining engaged even when taking notes.

3 Keys to Developing Active Listening

Develop active listening by practicing these three skills:

  1. Keep an open mind
    • Focus on the speaker’s ideas, not on the delivery.
    • Give the speaker your full attention.
    • Resist forming an opinion until you’ve heard the entire lecture.
    • Don’t let the speaker’s quirks, mannerisms, speech patterns, personality, or appearance get in the way of listening to the message.
    • Stay focused on the central ideas being communicated.
    • Listen for the significance of the message.

  2. Ignore distractions
    • Be fully present.
    • Make sure your phone is silenced or turned off. Everyone can hear a vibrating phone.
    • Tune out any chatter around you, or politely tell the talkers that you’re having trouble listening.
    • Better yet, sit up front.
    • Face away from windows if you can to avoid outside distractions.
    • Set aside all emotional issues you brought with you to the classroom.
    • Know your own hot buttons and don’t allow yourself to respond emotionally to issues being presented.

  3. Participate
    • Make eye contact with the speaker.
    • Nod to show understanding.
    • Ask clarifying questions.
    • Maintain body language that shows you are interested.
    • Avoid slouching in your chair and looking bored.
    • Take notes, but continue to stay focused on the speaker, looking up often.

Active listening will make studying later so much easier. By paying close attention to the significant ideas presented in the classroom, you’ll be able to remember the actual experience of learning the material when it comes time to retrieve it.

The Power of Meditation

If you're a person who has never considered learning to meditate, you might think about giving it a try. People who meditate take control of their thoughts. Just think of how powerful that can be in the classroom when your thoughts are wandering.

Learn to meditate, and you'll be able to pull those thoughts right back to the task at hand. Here's a primer: How to Meditate.

Meditation also helps manage the stress of going back to school: Benefits of Meditation for Stress Management.

The Listening Test

Take this listening test and find out if you're a good listener.

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