Why It Matters: Listening and Responding

“You’re not listening!” is something that you may say when you are frustrated with your teenager. A frustrated parent might yell this phrase as a toddler runs through a parking lot. A teacher could say it while flicking the overhead lights on and off, trying to get her unruly students to listen to her. A woman may offer these three words as a parting shot before hanging up on her significant other. A man might make this complaint to his spouse during a couple’s counseling session. In all of these instances, the person speaking wonders if their message is truly being heard.

Public speaking requires an audience to hear. Otherwise, you are speaking to yourself and, maybe, your couch. An essential element that makes public speaking truly effective is when the audience hears and listens. You might think that “hearing” and “listening” are synonymous. But they aren’t, as you will soon understand. In a classic listening text, Adler notes, “How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required” (p. 5). Listening requires great effort. This module will prepare you by offering the skills needed to listen effectively.

Listening skills apply to every aspect of your life—educational, personal, and professional. In this section, we will examine the difference between hearing and listening and what your role as a listener is in both this public speaking class and in the world. You will learn about the attributes of an active listener, barriers to listening, and strategies to listen better. Finally, building on valuable lessons regarding listening, this module concludes with suggestions that public speakers can use to encourage audiences to listen more attentively.

We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less. —Diogenes