We all interface with a variety of messages every day. But who are those messages for? Are they intended to help the communicator or the receiver?
Critical listening can be learned with practice but is not necessarily easy to do. You may be an expert at discerning when messages contain accurate information, are biased toward the sender’s opinions, or are simply false. Many people aren’t able to think critically about the messages they receive. Unfortunately, sometimes messages are intentionally complex to avoid critical scrutiny. Here’s how to improve your listening skills:
Recognize the Difference between Facts and Opinion – Often when people have a negative opinion about a topic, they are unwilling to accept facts. Instead, they question all aspects of the speech and have a negative predisposition towards both the speech and the speaker. Critical listeners may agree or disagree with a speaker’s opinions, but the point is that they know when a message they are hearing is based on opinion or facts.
Uncover Assumptions – If something is factual, supporting evidence exists. We still need to be careful about what evidence does and does not mean. Assumptions are gaps in a logical sequence that listeners passively fill with their own ideas and opinions and may or may not be accurate. When listening to a public speech, you may find yourself being asked to assume something is a fact when in reality many people question that fact. By listening critically, you will be more likely to notice unwarranted assumptions in a speech, prompting you to question the speaker if questions are taken or to do further research to examine the validity of the speaker’s assumptions. Don’t let yourself be persuaded because of passive listening!
When you listen critically to a speech, you might hear information that appears unsupported by evidence. You should not accept that information unconditionally. You would accept it under the condition that the speaker offers credible evidence that directly supports it.
Rely on Reason and Common Sense – If you are listening to a speech and your common sense tells you that the message is illogical, you very well might be right. You should be thinking about whether the speech seems credible and coherent. In this way, your use of common sense can act as a warning system for you. Come to your own conclusions from evidence that has been presented!
To increase your critical listening skills, continue developing your ability to identify the central issues in messages so that you can take accurate notes that represent the meanings intended by the speaker.
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