The Art of Listening for Tertiary Students

By Abdulafeez Olaitan, UNILAG

Zeno of Citium was quoted by Diogenes Laërtius to have said: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”

As a student of higher education, strong active listening skills will help you so much, both in and out of the classroom. Active listening has really paid off for a lot of people and has helped elevate them to success. For example, the founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson said in a LinkedIn post:

“The ability to lock in and listen is a skill that has served me well in life… Although it seems to be a dying art, I believe that listening is one of the most important skills for any teacher, parent, leader, entrepreneur or, well, just about anyone who has a pulse.”

Just as rightly claimed by G. K. Chesterton, there is a lot of difference between listening and hearing and the earlier a student of higher learning understands this, the better. Communication with instructors of higher education can be sometimes intimidating. However, with the right skill set, you can overcome this morass.

One important aspect of listening is the certain knowledge that it is an active action, rather than passive. We may enter into a conversation with people with the sole aim of listening to them. This doesn’t inherently make the activity a monologue, rather we listen to people in order to understand them or learn from them.

At higher education level, effective listening helps give witty responses in situations that demand high reasoning abilities.

One of the most important thing you have to do is to make a conscious and deliberate effort to listen. Make sure that you are willing to fully pay attention. This includes not just hearing the words, but understanding their context and only making relevant responses. Roy T. Bennett once said:

“The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.”

Hence, ask clarifying questions to clear any doubtful thoughts arising from a listening activity but wait for the speaker to pause before doing that, rather than interrupt. Also, try to eliminate distractions and attention-stealing objects—smartphones, for example. Some internal distractions could arise from hunger and fatigue. Try to manage these by being well-rested and having a healthy meal before class.

Paraphrase when necessary to reinforce the act of absorbing, capturing and reviewing of highlights of an activity.

Apart from the fact that active listening promotes mutual respect, it also helps reduce misunderstanding, so, pay attention to nonverbal actions used for communication, e.g. facial expressions, body positioning, arm gestures, tone of voice, etc.

In conclusion, as a student of higher education, do not neglect the art listening because you assume you already know the material. You only need to understand what a person is saying, you do not need to agree with it. So, listen for what is not being said at all but to what is being said minimally and what is being said at length. This further helps to indicate areas of importance and of less importance. Sort the information and determine what is clear and what is confusing. Ask questions. Listen. Listen. Listen. Godspeed.

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