October 5, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Are You Wearing Your Listening Ears?

Are You Wearing Your Listening Ears?

Do you remember when your parent or teacher would ask this question before announcing important
information? Active listening is one of the basic skills we develop as members of a community. Forget for a minute about our public relations, advertising and marketing career labels. We are communicators.

“Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” – Anonymous

As a marketing communications professor at Northwood University, I incorporate active listening development in each class at every level. Active listening is a powerful, complex process and learned skill. Recognize the importance of this skill and revitalize your networking and negotiation tactics. Listening
requires work, desire and self-discipline. The words “hear” and “listen” cannot be used interchangeably. To actively listen is to understand what is being communicated.

Conduct a Reality Check

Prove your understanding by asking for clarification or restatement. Failure to retain information is not
the problem; it’s failure to comprehend.

Common summarizing phrases include:

“Help me understand…”

“I hear you saying…”

“It sounds like you think…”


What is the speaker really saying? Invest time to become thoroughly familiar with the topic and speaker. Separate a speaker’s primary ideas from supporting material. Not every Utterz is of equal importance. Identifying the intent and motive helps reveal the implicit. Listen to the cadence of the words and observe tale-telling body language for additional insights.

Take Notes

Do not be a stenographer. Regurgitating a speaker’s words is not the act of comprehending. Paraphrase and reword notes so you understand. In a presentation atmosphere, using tools like Twitter to record notes real-time will not be useful in review if you cannot recall the context. Remember, there is nothing wrong with a pad of paper and pen!

Resist Distractions

“The overdoses, freak-outs, and collapses that converged in the late ’60s to wipe out the gains of the wide-eyed optimists who set out to ‘Be Here Now’ but ended up making posters that read ‘Speed Kills’ are finally coming for the wired utopians who strove to ‘Be Everywhere at Once’ but lost a measure of innocence or should have, when their manic credo convinced us we could fight two wars at the same time.”

– The Autumn of the Multitaskers, The Atlantic,
November 2007

In an effort to increase efficiency, convenience, and mobility, are you sacrificing intelligent listening? Are you doing all the talking? An array of mobile video and audio applications such as Seesmic and Utterz are lighting up our computers and phones like a Christmas tree. The impact of mobile conversation tools is spurring people to react quicker to questions and problems. Spend more time listening for information and solutions. Do not blame freedom of technology for shortchanging our memory and learning abilities.

Be Respectful

Keep an open mind. Harness intense emotions to avoid mentally arguing with a speaker. Don’t forget your body language speaks volumes too! Breathe deeply, sit up straight and make eye contact with the speaker. Relax. Avoid anticipating next words and interjecting your thoughts. Think before you speak. Hear out the speaker then prepare your response.

Life is so much more interesting because each of us have our own opinions and beliefs. Foster trust, honesty and intimacy by following the Golden Rule of Listening: “Listen unto others as you would have others listen to you.”

Value Check

Make the speaker feel heard. In addition to asking questions, give feedback beginning with positive observations then constructive criticism. Look for positive and negative aspects in every verbal exchange. Plutarch, Greek writer, said “Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”
Who knows, you might be inspired to write a How-Not-To book!

“Listening to both sides of a story will convince you that there is more than to a story than both sides.” – Frank Tyger

Lauren Vargas is a public relations professional and college professor, relying on principles to survive and thrive in the social media evolution. Vargas is author of Communicators Anonymous.

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1 Comment

  1. jwhite@customscoop.com'
    Jen White

    Excellent article–in general, I think that focused attention is becoming a lost art. We’ve become so accustomed to multi-tasking and dividing our attention that it feels like we’ve slowed down when we stop and listen. Or stop and think. Or just drive instead of drive, dial, and eat, etc.
    When working as a communicator, what you miss when your attention isn’t focused could very well be the key to a success or failure with a client.

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