Self Help-Listening Skills

Listening Skills

Although we use listening skills more than any other communication skill, listening is rarely taught (John Parker and Janet Weathers report the following breakdown of a person’s communication activities in The Student Success Workbook: listening — 45%; talking — 30%; reading — 16%; writing — 9%). Since the human brain works about four times as fast as the mouth, to listen effectively requires that you maintain a considerable amount of self-control and concentration. It is little wonder that you may have found yourself nodding off in class or wondering why you seem to gain very little from attending lectures when we consider these facts. The good news is that you can improve your listening skills by practicing the following techniques and principles:


In The Classroom:



  • Develop a consumer-wise and positive attitude. You are taking that class for some reason and therefore you have an investment at stake. You have the opportunity to make the most of your investment, to benefit from that class—it is your choice.
  • Sit near the front of the class where you can easily see and hear the teacher. If you are assigned a seat, and you cannot hear well, ask the teacher to move you right away. Sitting near the teacher allows you to focus more closely. It also gives the teacher the opportunity to more easily get feedback from you, and you’ll have incentive to stay awake.
  • Review previous class notes, assignments, and texts before you go to class. This will help you understand how the day’s lecture relates to previous material and assigned readings. You will also have a better understanding of the material, and this will enable you to ask thoughtful questions for clarification (professors will certainly appreciate this!).
  • Be aware of what your mind is doing and be alert. If you practice observing your mental activity, you’ll be less likely to spend the entire class daydreaming about a burger at the Chicken. This takes practice, but you will benefit if you learn to bring your mind back to the classroom. Staying alert is not always easy, so avoid eating heavy meals before class, wear comfortable clothing, and constantly monitor your focus of attention.
  • Use an efficient note taking system. Not only will this help keep you awake and organized, but your efforts will pay off when you study for exams and quizzes later.
  • Ask questions to help you clarify concepts and to get you actively involved in the learning process.
  • Focus on the content of what the teacher says, not the delivery.
  • Listen for the main points of the lecture and try to determine future test questions.
  • Be responsive. Can you imagine how it feels to speak to a sea of blank faces? Put some energy into your listening, and your teachers may have more energy and enthusiasm as well.
  • Since you can think faster than the speaker can talk, take advantage of the speed of thought and mentally summarize main points, look for underlying assumptions, anticipate what is coming, evaluate the evidence that is being given, and compare and contrast the ideas with your knowledge. This is active, critical listening.


A Few More Tips
(whether in the classroom or one-on-one):


  • Empathize with the person and try to put yourself in his or her place to help you see the point.
  • Don’t interrupt; give them time to say what they are trying to say.
  • Leave your emotions behind and control your anger. They will prevent you from listening well.
  • Get rid of distractions.
  • Don’t argue mentally.
  • Don’t antagonize the speaker. This could cause someone to conceal important ideas, emotions, and attitudes.
  • Avoid jumping to assumptions. They can get you into trouble. For example, don’t assume that the speaker is using the words in the same way that you are interpreting them. Ask for clarification if you are unsure.




A&S 1111 Resource Book. Fall 1989. The College of Arts and Sciences, Oklahoma State University.
Weathers, Janet L. and John R. Parker. The Student Success Workbook. La Crescenta, CA: Student Success, 1985.