Are your ears open

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” (Deep and Sussman 76)

Upon studying listening within another course, the vast and somewhat unclear subject began to become clearer. The act of listening entails in-depth processes that elude a majority of people’s knowledge. The act of listening involves four main parts: hearing, attention, understanding and remembering. Listening entails a vast amount of information that a majority of people does not know or understand.
The common view on listening often does not even involve true listening. People often mistake hearing for listening. Just because you heard something does not necessarily mean that you were listening. While others do not even realize that listening is one step of a four-part process. While two people are involved in communication, the one receiving the message while “listening” formulates the next phase within their head. They miss a large percentage of what the person involved in speaking is saying (Tubbs and Moss 141). The reasons [for ineffective listening] are so obvious that they are sometimes overlooked. First, listening is mistakenly equated with hearing and since most of us can hear, no academic priority is given to this subject in college. Second, we perceive power in speech. We put a value on those who have the gift of gab. How often have you heard the compliment, “He/she can talk to anyone?” Additionally, we equate speaking with controlling both the conversation and the situation. The third and last reason we don’t listen, is that we are in an ear of information overload. We are bombarded with the relevant and the irrelevant and it is easy to confuse them. Often it is all just so much noise (Koehler 543-544). The false perception of listening embodies the common view that people involved in communication often have.
The first element in the listening process is hearing, which is the automatic physiological process of receiving aural stimuli. Sound waves are received by the ear and stimulate neurological impulses to the brain. Next we place these sounds in a meaningful order or sequence so that they may be recognized as words. Third, we recognize words in a pattern that constituted a language, which then helps to convey the message from the communicator to us (Brooks 82).
Another major factor in people’s difficulty to maintain effective listening is the speaker’s rate. According to a study done by Blain Goss, the average speaker’s rate is between 100 and 150 words per minute (Goss 91). Our brain often utilizes this free time to daydream and not truly focus on the issue at hand. Unfortunately, when you stop talking, you sometimes start arguing mentally as another way maintains your viewpoint.
“Arguing mentally is like talking to yourself very, very quietly, just loud enough to keep you from listening to someone else. The second step the in enhancing verbal communication is to stop arguing mentally and seriously consider what’s going on as it is happening moment by moment. Do not reflect, for that’s old news. Do not start imagining, for that’s somewhere that doesn’t exist yet. Understand what’s going on now-right now” (Adler 16)!

Attention, the next element within the listening process deals largely with the amount of concentration on a speaker’s words. Humans utilize selective attention during their everyday communication. Selective attention occurs when we attend to a certain amount of stimuli while filtering out others (Tubbs and Moss 143). A widely recognized study, called the “cocktail party problem” (Bostrom 11) deals directly with the use of selective attention during a party. The test uses a party scene where numerous conversations occur simultaneously. The researchers study how the subject attends to one conversation at a time, while tuning out all others.
Another issue in determining the attention level is threshold. A threshold is the minimum level of stimulus intensity that enables us to pay attention (Moray 18). Attention thresholds vary depending on several key factors, including our motivational sate and arousal level. Arousal, or the level of alertness, plays a key role in a listener aptitude for paying close attention. Our specific state of arousal determines our threshold for paying close attention to stimuli.
The third facet of the listening process is understanding. Understanding usually refers to the process whereby we assign a