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Of all the communication faults people are accused of, not listening probably ranks as number one. Listening is a skill, and like any other skill it must be learned and practiced. Obstacles to effective listening include cognitive dissonance, anxiety, a need to control communication, and passivity. Listening is also a process and a transaction. You make predictions about messages before you hear them. How you listen is determined by the attention you give to a message. You are able to tune out unwanted messages through the process of selective attention. Once you hear a message, you must assign meaning to it by organizing the material you have heard and selecting what you need to remember. The last step is assessing what you have heard.

To be a good listener, you must become actively involved in the process of listening. As an active listener, you should evaluate and criticize material while you listen to it. When you listen actively, you are less likely to become distracted or bored. In many situations you have a responsibility to listen carefully.

There are four kinds of listening: listening for information, critical listening, empathic listening, and listening for enjoyment. Listening for information involves listening for facts. In this kind of listening it is important to identify the central idea and distinguish it from the main points. Critical listening involves evaluating the material you hear. To listen critically, you listen for the motives of the speaker and mentally challenge the speaker's ideas and information. Critical listening is especially important when you are listening to persuasive messages.

Empathic listening is listening for feelings. This kind of listening is most often done in interpersonal communication, and it often helps the speaker cope with his or her feelings and problems. Listening for enjoyment is the listening that you choose to do for your own pleasure. You can learn to enjoy complex material by using all the other listening skills. When you discover that those you want to listen to you are not listening, or will not, it does not have to be a hopeless situation. We discussed the techniques of assertiveness, getting to the point, being prepared, writing ideas down, being flexible, and changing your verbal style as possible ways--or combinations of ways--for reaching out and grasping the attention of others. Whatever techniques you choose, you need to avoid being aggressive and thoughtless and show courtesy and respect. All decisions should be made using good judgment, common sense, thoughtfulness, and propriety.

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