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Now Pay Attention Here's Why You Need Good Listening Skills

By Dawn Rosenberg McKay, Guide

Several years back there was a public service announcement that ran on television. It talked about the importance of good listening skills and the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physical ability while listening is a skill. Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. In other words, listening skills allow you to understand what someone is "talking about".

In 1991 the United States Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified five competencies and three foundation skills that are essential for those entering the workforce. Listening skills were among the foundation skills SCANS identified.
Why You Need Good Listening Skills

Good listening skills make workers more productive. The ability to listen carefully will allow you to:

    * better understand assignments and what is expected of you;

    * build rapport with co-workers, bosses, and clients;

    * show support;

    * work better in a team-based environment;

    * resolve problems with customers, co-workers, and bosses;

    * answer questions; and

    * find underlying meanings in what others say.

How to Listen Well
The following tips will help you listen well. Doing these things will also demonstrate to the speaker that you are paying attention. While you may in fact be able to listen while looking down at the floor, doing so may imply that you are not.

    * maintain eye contact;

    * don't interrupt the speaker;

    * sit still;

    * nod your head;

    * lean toward the speaker;

    * repeat instructions and ask appropriate questions when the speaker has finished.

A good listener knows that being attentive to what the speaker doesn't say is as important as being attentive to what he does say. Look for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to get the full gist of what the speaker is telling you.
Barriers to Listening
Beware of the following things that may get in the way of listening.

    * bias or prejudice;

    * language differences or accents;

    * noise;

    * worry, fear, or anger; and

    * lack of attention span.

Listening Starts Early
If you have children you know what it's like to feel like you're talking to a wall. Kids have an uncanny ability to appear to be listening to you while actually paying no attention at all. While this is something that may pass with age it is important to help children develop good listening skills early. They will do better in school and you will keep your sanity. As the SCANS report points out, good listening skills will prepare children to eventually succeed in the workforce.

    * When you tell your child to do something, ask him to repeat your instructions;

    * Teach your child to maintain eye contact when talking to or listening to someone;

    * Read out loud to your child and then engage her in a conversation about what you have read; and

    * Engage your child in age-appropriate activities that promote good listening skills.
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