Walk into any Student Union on a college campus and you will find a group of students working on a project or discussing a class. Today, at a large table, we see a group involved in an intense discussion. They are all students in Professor Jackie Merritt’s Listening class and just learned that they will be working together on a small group project writing and performing a skit about listening. Since this is the first week of school, they decided to meet so they could get to know each other better. Meet Ben Goleman, Tamarah Jackson, Nolvia Guetierez, Namii Kim, Carter Bishop, and Radley Monroe. Let’s listen to part of their conversation.
Case Study 1.1Introductions
Well, since I appear to be the oldest in this group, why don’t I get things started. As you know, I’m Tamarah Jackson and I really appreciate you agreeing to meet at this time. Since I work full time in the city’s public safety department, I can only meet after five. I’m an only child and grew up surrounded by members of the Choctaw Nation since my dad is a tribal elder. My mom is a social worker and my dad is a plumber.
Hi Tamarah, I bet your background will add a lot to our class discussions about listening. I’m Ben Goleman and like Tamarah, I have some time constraints. I can’t meet between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday. Friday evening my family observes Shabbat and then attends synagogue on Saturday. I’m a middle child, and my mother is a physician and dad is the VP of Human Resources at the auto plant here in town. He thought I picked a good class when I told him I was taking a listening class. He thinks it’s a skill that can really help me in all aspects of life. I sure hope he’s right – I hate the idea of just taking a class to get a grade.
I know what you mean. Some classes can be a real waste of time. But I think this one will be different. My name is Carter Bishop, and I’m a “second batch” kid. My parents had three girls and then fifteen years later I came along. They split up when I was four. My mom, sisters and I stayed here. Dad moved to Chicago and works for a PR firm there. Mom’s an administrator in the Dean’s office. I know both of my parents think listening is important. Just last week, when I visited my Dad, he talked about how important listening to his clients is to his success.
You’re the youngest kid? I’m the oldest of four and my folks really seem to be zeroed in on me setting the bar for my sisters and little brother. I’m Radley Monroe. If you’re from around here, you may have heard of my folks. Dad’s the football coach at Mockingbird High. He was the first African American to get a graduate degree from State U. He also teaches math, so he’s pretty smart. Mom’s Scout Monroe, one of the anchors of the 6:00 o’clock news on Channel 10.
Wow, my parents never miss your mom’s newscast. They will be so excited when I tell them that we are working on a project together. My name is NaMii Kim and as you have probably figured out, I’m Korean. My grandparents immigrated here in the 50s. My dad is the eldest of their children and the only boy. My grandparents love to talk about Korean traditions. It’s pretty interesting most of the time. But sometimes they don’t exactly approve of the “modern” ideas my brothers and I have, and since they live with us, we get an earful. My dad works at the auto plant as an accountant and business manager. And Ben, I think my dad knows your dad. My mother works at Merc’s Department store. Let me know if you need anything, I can get a discount.
Well it looks like I’m last. I’m Nolvia Guetierez. I know what you mean, NaMii, about grandparents and their old-fashioned ideas. Mine came from Honduras and live next door to my family. But it actually has been a good thing. My dad had an accident a few years ago and now he’s a paraplegic. Thank goodness my grandparents were there. They really helped while dad went through operations, therapy and all that stuff. My mom works as a pharmacist with Rex Drugs, and she really relied on them a lot to help my dad and to look after my brother and me.
As children, we are often praised and reinforced for speaking well. But how many of you were praised for “listening well?” For not interrupting? For being attentive? In school, you are assigned speeches to give, and you can even take speaking classes. However, it is unlikely that you have received formal listening training before now. At best, you were exposed to a unit of listening as part of another class you have taken – public speaking, interpersonal communication, music education, or perhaps a second language class.
Classes aren’t the only way you’ve learned about communication. You’ve spent your life studying the communication behaviors of those around you, particularly the communication habits and behaviors of significant people, like your parents and friends. We tend to model our communication behaviors after those whom we observe. This holds true for listening as well. But just because you model your communication and listening on others in your lives, doesn’t mean you can’t learn a great deal more about useful and effective listening behaviors.
As scholars and consultants in the field of communication and listening, we feel that listening is not just a critical communication competency; it is an important life competency. As a listener, you receive information that helps you to reach personal goals and develop and support relationships. Business owners often report that one of the skills they value most is listening.1
As consultants, we often hear them complain that they have a hard time finding employees who listen effectively.
The Importance of Listening Competency
One reason we believe listening is a critical life competency is because it is fundamental to all other communication competencies – speaking, writing, and reading. Of these competencies, listening is the first communication skill we acquire and use. In fact, you began to listen before
you were born. Researchers have found that during the last trimester of a pregnancy, the fetus actively processes incoming auditory input, and can clearly distinguish between music, language, and other sounds.2
Thus, at the very beginnings of human consciousness listening plays an important role.
Listening is also key to learning language.3
In fact, “learning to speak a language is very largely a task of learning to hear it.”4
Infants are born with the ability to distinguish between every sound – consonants and vowels – necessary to produce any human language.5
However, if infants do not hear certain sounds, they eventually lose the ability to easily reproduce it. By 12 months, children have learned the sounds and rules of their native language. So, an English speaking child distinguishes between and can articulate both “R” and “L,” while a Japanese child does not. It is by listening that infants fine tune their brain to Swahili instead of Spanish, or to English instead of Egyptian. Infants, then, learn to understand and master language by simply listening to us talk. You’ll notice that we said “listening to us talk.” Emerging research in language development suggests that social interaction is a key component of language development. This emphasis on interaction may help explain why children with autism sometimes have difficulty with language; they prefer non-speech sounds over their mother’s speaking.6
Dr. Patricia Kuhl, a leading researcher in early language and bilingual development, provides a short TED talk on research in infant language development: www.ted.com/speakers/patricia_kuhl
The understanding of oral language becomes the basis for learning how we comprehend and accurately read and write. In fact, reading comprehension is highly correlated with listening comprehension.7
This finding is illustrated by how children learn to read by first listening to others read aloud (parents, teachers, babysitters), and then listening to the words as they themselves read aloud. By reading aloud, children can recognize (by listening to their own voice) and self-correct their pronunciation.8
Ultimately, your ability to “speak, read, write, and reason” are influenced by your listening ability.9
As students, listening is fundamental to your personal and academic success.10
Educator Joseph Beatty goes even further arguing...