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A Personal Example of Failing to Listen

Danny attends graduate classes four nights a week, from 6:30 until 8 p.m. He normally leaves his job at 5, rushes home, changes clothes, grabs something to eat and is out the door by 6.

Tonight, as he was rushing through his normal routine, his wife reminded him that their oldest child needed glasses, the car payment was a week late and somehow they had bounced a check.

As he was fighting traffic on his way to class, the "check engine" light kept coming on. Traffic was heavier than usual, and he arrived in class about five minutes late. He was forced to sit in the last row. This was the worst place to be, because the professor was a mumbler and had an accent, which compounded the difficulty in hearing the lecture.

To make matters even worse, tonight's lecture was on international economics -- a subject Danny knows nothing about. He had taken an economics course as an undergraduate, didn't care for the subject and received a D.

Danny notices the woman sitting to his left and thinks that she is one of the people he had to lay off three years ago during the firm's second reorganization. He also notes that one of the overhead lights is out, and the classroom feels extra warm tonight.

Nevertheless, Danny takes out his pen and note pad. Twenty minutes later, he glances down at the note pad and it's blank! He hasn't written a single word. He wonders to himself, "Where have I been for the last 20 minutes?"

Danny probably spent some time with his wife and his job. As he got settled in the class, he may have begun to wonder how a check bounced and how large of a check it was. His stomach with his half-digested dinner in it probably turned over a few times as he dwelled on the cost of glasses for his oldest child. Also, he needed to get some money in the bank to take care of the car payment.

Danny probably thought about his job and the reorganizations, due to the woman who looked like a former employee. When would the next reorganization hit? Would he be safe? If he survives the next one, what about the one after that?

Danny was especially able to play with all of these distractions due to the subject matter, as he had little interest in international economics and no positive prior experience with it. He failed to block out these distractions.

In summary, Danny "violated" many of the rules for effective listening -- too many distractions, lack of preparation and he probably was fatigued. The point is that you have to work at being an effective listener. It's not easy.

Perhaps Danny should do something about the rush between 5 and 6. Maybe he could leave work a little earlier. Possibly he should take something to eat to the campus and avoid rushing around at home.

Needless to say, he should preview the material to be lectured on prior to coming to class. He needs to focus on the content of the professor's lecture and not be distracted by his mumbling or his accent.

He needs to force himself to leave his work and family problems out of the classroom. He can do this by becoming more actively involved in listening by taking notes or possibly asking questions. A conscious effort has to be made.

Unfortunately, all of these suggestions to improve Danny's listening and learning may be easier said than done. However, if he is going to enhance his position with the firm and earn his master's degree, a concentrated effort needs to be put forth, incorporating the concepts of active, aggressive listening.