Information Processing and Listening

I. Revising the theory

Exercise 1. Dwell on the factors influencing the way we process the incoming information.

Exercise 2. Information processing consists of several interrelated steps. Restore the order of those steps and name them properly.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • Evaluating the message in order to decide whether it is worth further processing.
  • Filtering out extraneous stimuli and focusing on the elements that are central to the message.
  • Storing and retrieving messages that seem useful.
  • Understanding the meaning and intent of the message, relating it to known information.

1. .
2. .
3. .
4. .

Exercise 3. How can the speaker attract the listeners’ voluntary and involuntary attention? Put the following tips into appropriate columns.

Voluntary Attention Involuntary attention
  • Create vivid and compelling message elements that cannot be ignored
  • Use concrete, easily visualized information.
  • Motivate the receiver to focus on the message by pointing out that the message is related to his needs, goals or plans.
  • Add special “attention getters” such as humor, startling statements or vivid descriptions.

Exercise 4. Match the two parts of sentences making true statements about how to ensure acceptance and enhance retention and retrieval.

  • One way to increase acceptance is to show receivers how the information
  • Message content should offer some reward to receivers;
  • Senders who wish to increase acceptance should encourage
  • Active rehearsal and repetition make
  • Information related to self-perception appears to be stored
  • If senders tie message proposals to appropriate triggers,
  • In order to increase both retention and retrieval, messages should be summarized
  • favorable cognitive responses.
  • a message more memorable.
  • presented fits with other elements in their belief system.
  • information retrieval can be increased.
  • in simple but vivid style.
  • receivers should understand why the information conveyed is useful to them.
  • more readily than less relevant information.

Exercise 5. Read the following statements and decide which of them refer to listening and which to hearing.

Listening Hearing
  • A physiological process that occurs when sound waves are translated into electrical impulses that are then processed by the central nervous system.
  • The process whereby orally communicated messages are attended to, recognized, and interpreted in light of needs and experiences, and stored for future use..
  • An active, creative process governed by the listener’s inner state.
  • The sensing of external aural data.

II. Practicing

Exercise 1. Read the following extract from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and consider the tasks below.

January 20, 1961

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world…

So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah – to “undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free”…

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?..

1. How does the speaker increase the listeners’ comprehension? Find the lines where new information is related to old by means of analogy and comparison.

2. Who is the target audience of this speech? Pay attention to the language and images used. How do they help the orator to ensure comprehension of the message?

3. Have you noticed any peculiarities in organizational structure that contribute to increased comprehension?

4. Find the phrases by means of which the sender provides opportunities for feedback.

Exercise 2. Read the following texts. Dwell on different types of listening and on gender differences that are associated with this process. Give your own examples to illustrate these differences.

A. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” is more than the cover of the American bestseller. It is a sentence that we have all heard or said at least once. It is no secret that men and women are different, but how does that manifest itself in communication and more precisely in listening.

When men and women listen, they do so for different reasons. They also seek different information from the speaker; men focus on the facts when women focus on “the mood of the communication”. Yet these differences might not be as important as we believe. Researchers Canary and Hause (1993) have concluded, after analyzing hundred of studies that gender differences in communication “are small and inconsistent; that is, about 1 % of the variance”. This makes us question whether sex differences in listening are something we assume or something that is real.

It is no secret that women communicate at a greater extent; they do so because they feel the more information they share the more the other person understands. Yet, men see this more as a waste of time. Therefore, they might not carefully listen because they don’t perceive the message as important. Meanwhile, when men speak, they go straight to the point. This leaves women wanting more information because they feel that this will make them comprehend the situation better. This all goes back to the notion that genders listen for different information.

Regardless of why men and women don’t listen the same way, it is important to know what to do in these situations. Remember that these are general guidelines and that each individual is different.

For men:

Be patient. Women feel the need to express everything in order to provide you with the most information about the situation.

Be involved. Women often feel that men don’t care about what they are saying due to the lack of reaction.

Don’t assume. Don’t assume what they are saying is not important because the subject is not important to you. If she is taking the time to talk to you about it, she wants you to take the time to listen to her.

For women:

Be realistic. You can’t expect people to always react the way you want them to. If their reaction frustrates you, don’t get mad simply say their reaction confuses you.

Stay calm. There is no need to analyze everything the other sex says. There is not always a double-meaning to things.

Say what you mean. There is no need to play games or go around the subject. Men can’t read your mind and it is not always so easy to deduct what you want to say from what you actually said.

For both:

Establish ground rules. For example, before starting a serious subject, establish how much time you want to talk about it. This will prohibit certain preventable arguments.

Show interest. Women and men are interested by different things. In the end, they both want the other to show a bit of enthusiasm in what they enjoy.

Adapted from:

B. The three main types of listening

Active Listening

The listener gives verbal or non-verbal feedback by asking questions and/or by paraphrasing what the speaker said. In this situation, the listener uses his other senses to go beyond the words spoken. Hearing alone does not provide enough information. It is about understanding the speaker’s point of view without necessarily agreeing with it. Active listening is the most civil type of listening because you must acknowledge emotions and feelings.

Active listening is used to ensure a mutual understanding. In fact, in a conversation, the interlocutor is rarely fully committed. It is very common for the listener to be distracted by preoccupations, noise and other distractions. Overall, the interlocutor is only providing his full attention 50 % of the time.

This type of listening is the most valuable during a conflict. When a conflict occurs, we concentrate on our arguments and how we will respond instead of listening to the speaker. This means that we are unable to effectively comprehend the speaker’s message. Active listening doesn’t mean we have to agree with the speaker, simply understand what they are trying to convey.

A good way to see if you have understood the speaker’s words is to paraphrase. This way, misunderstandings can be detected and solved quickly.

Critical Listening

The critical listening is also known: as evaluative, judgmental or interpretive listening.

The main goal of this type of listening is to evaluate the message with logic while analyzing the different arguments provided by the speaker. It requires some analysis, judgment and critical thinking. It is necessary in order to be able to criticize the strength of the evidence and to determine the motive of the speaker. However, critical listening is not an easy task to accomplish because it is needed to absorb and evaluate the information together.

When applying critical listening, the main key point is to first of all understand the speaker before evaluating. Questioning oneself about the credibility, the validity and the strength of the evidence is vital. Some other questions such as: Is this speaker bias? Is he a trusted expert in his domain of expertise? These types of questions can help separate the facts from the personal opinions from the speaker.

In this situation, it is important to be open-minded because it is important to stay objective.

Content listening

This type of listening involves understanding and retaining the information provided by the speaker. It also requires to identify the main key points of the message and to find cues by doing a summary of it. Moreover, it is important to understand different sounds and tones provide by the speaker. However, some other factors need to be taken under consideration such as phonology, vocabulary, grammar, general discourse, and informational discourse.

To effectively apply content listening, it is needed once again identify the main idea or the key points of the message. Then, the next thing to do is to ask questions for clarifications if the message was misunderstood. This will increase the level of understanding of the message transmitted.

Adapted from:

Exercise 3. Read the following article and consider the tasks below.

17 Ways to Use Active Listening Techniques in Online Communication

By Adrian Try

14 Oct 2009

Business depends on communication, and communication is a two-way street. Not only do we need to develop the skill not just of making ourselves understood clearly and accurately, but we need to return the favor and put some effort into understanding the other person.

In a recent article I talked about the value of active listening for improving business. Only 35 % of communication is contained in the actual words we are hearing or reading. The other 65 % of the message is contained in body language, facial expression, tone and rate of speech, and other non-verbal aspects of communication. Active listening techniques can help us make the most of that 65 %.

The problem is, that as web workers our main modes of communication make reading body language or facial expressions impossible. A great deal of our information is word only – business letters, email, instant messaging, blogging and microblogging. Some of our communication involves voice – phone and Skype – so at least we can pick up on the other person’s tone of voice. And even when we have the advantage of video, it’s still not the same thing as being there in person. It’s helpful being able to see their face, but it is only the size of a postage stamp, and often very jumpy.

In A Beginner’s Guide to Effective Email, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood sums up the problems we experience with online communication:

Email also does not convey emotions nearly as well as face-to-face or even telephone conversations. It lacks vocal inflection, gestures, and a shared environment. Your correspondent may have difficulty telling if you are serious or kidding, happy or sad, frustrated or euphoric. Sarcasm is particularly dangerous to use in email

Another difference between email and older media is that what the sender sees when composing a message might not look like what the reader sees. Your vocal cords make sound waves that are perceived basically the same by both your ears as your audience’s. The paper that you write your love note on is the same paper that the object of your affection sees. But with email, the software and hardware that you use for composing, sending, storing, downloading, and reading may be completely different from what your correspondent uses. Your message’s visual qualities may be quite different by the time it gets to someone else’s screen.

To be good e-communicators, we need to be aware of these limitations, and get creative. Here are 17 ways you can use active listening techniques in online communication:

1. Vary Your Tone of Voice on the Phone or Skype

Tone of voice adds a lot to the message you are conveying – excitement, surprise, disappointment. Make good use of this when you are on the phone, and the other person can’t see your face.

Start by smiling. It’s often said that you can hear a smile over the phone. Then give the listener the benefit of hearing your facial expressions and emotional responses in the tone you speak with.

2. Mirror Your Facial Expressions with Emoticons

Emoticons can help clarify a message over email or instant messenger – though you don’t want to overuse them in a corporate context. Were you being serious or sarcastic, humorous or business-like. It’s usually not possible to tell from the words you use – especially when you are being concise – and the other person will subconsciously try to fill in the gaps, and often get it wrong. A smiley can add helpful context to a brief message.

3. Tell the Other Person About Your Feelings and Reactions

Have you ever been on one end of the phone wondering how the person was reacting on the other? Your listeners will have the same experience. Become your own commentator, and try to fill in the gaps for them. Use brief phrases like:

“That’s fantastic”.

“You’ve made my day”.

“I’m disappointed about…”.

“That’s terrible

“That won’t work for me”.

If you were meeting in person, the other person would have evaluated your response from your body language. It’s dangerous to assume they will guess correctly from just the words you use over the phone. Let them know.

4. Ask Your Client About Their Feelings and Reactions

On the other hand, it’s dangerous to assume you are interpreting your client’s responses correctly. Ask them for feedback by asking questions like:

“How do you feel about that?”

“Does that sound good to you?”

“Is that going to work?”

Don’t just listen for facts, listen for feelings too. They can alert you to uncertainty or misunderstanding, warn of upcoming problems, or highlight opportunities you may otherwise have missed.

5. Specify the Response You Want

In the MindTools article Effective Email, it is suggested that you specify the response you want. This helps move things forward, and help you move to the next step more easily.

Make sure to include any call to action you desire, such as a phone call or follow-up appointment. Then, make sure you include your contact information, including your name, title, and phone numbers. Do this even with internal messages: The easier you make it for someone else to respond, the more likely they are to do so.

6. Don’t Pretend to Understand

If you miss something your client said on the phone, or you don’t really understand what they are saying, don’t pretend that you do. If you get lost, say “Sorry, I didn’t get that. What are you saying?” Pretending that you understand when you don’t will usually only lead to greater confusion, and it will be more embarrassing to admit it down the track.

7. Use Effective Interjections

When we are meeting with our clients face-to-face, we can show them we are listening and engaging by nodding to what they say, maintaining eye contact, and varying our facial expressions. That doesn’t work on the phone.

Instead, learn to use effective interjections to show your interest and that you’re listening. Use care – you don’t want to interrupt what they are saying. A simple, “Mmm” or “Ah ha” from time to time should be sufficient.

8. Offer Feedback

With Active Listening, “feedback” is a way to confirm you are understanding what your client is saying by rephrasing it. For example, you can reflect back “Joe, you sound happy with the new direction we are taking”, or “Mary, it sounds like you’ve changed your mind about the best color to use”.

This technique works well in conversations by phone or instant messenger, but be careful of using it in email. You want to avoid making your client send an extra email unless you are really unsure of what they mean.

9. Make Heavy Use of the ‘What’ Technique

The ‘What’ technique helps you clarify what your client is after, and works very well via digital communication. It involves asking questions that start with ‘What’, such as:

What do you want?

What can I do for you?

What were you hoping for?

What do you see as possible?

What is the context of that concern?

10. Get Personal

Use your client's name and second-person pronouns such as “you”, “your”, and “yours” to let them know you’re thinking of them specifically.

11. Answer Your Email Quickly

It’s amazing how many emails go unanswered, or are not answered in a timely manner. If your client has sent you an email, they’re likely to be anxious to get your response. After a while they will take your lack of response as a lack of interest, or start to wonder whether you actually received the email.

Put their mind at rest by answering the email quickly. Even if you need time to think about their offer, or don’t have time to deal with the issue at the moment, send them a brief reply letting them know you received their email, and will give them your answer in a few days or a few hours.

12. Re-read Your Email Before You Send It

You may already do this, looking for spelling and grammar errors. Make sure you also clarify sentences that might be misunderstood, and consider what emotion you might seem to be writing with. Do you come across as being short, angry or arrogant?

13. Set Out Your Email Replies Like a Conversation

When replying to a long email, or an email that addresses various points, set out your reply like a conversation. Quote each of the writer’s points one by one, with your own response after each point. This makes your reply easier to follow, and your answers to different issues won’t be confused. Don’t quote irrelevant parts of the original email, just the issues you are responding to.

14. Use Short Paragraphs

Short paragraphs are easier to read and easier to understand, especially when being read from a computer screen. For maximum readability, keep them to 50 words or less.

15. Avoid Shortcuts and Abbreviations

Besides being unbusinesslike, MSN-style abbreviations can be difficult to decode, and lead to misunderstanding. Make your emails and instant messages as understandable as possible by avoiding them. In a business context, it is best to avoid even well-known abbreviations like “lol”, “brb” and “imho”.

16. Remember You Can't Get Back a Sent Message

Have you ever hit “Send” too soon – either before your message was actually finished, or just as you realized you’d typed something inappropriate? In general, once you send a message, it’s gone. (Though you may be able to recall an internal email on a Microsoft Exchange server, and Gmail has a lab feature that gives you a few seconds to undo a send.)

Get in the habit of double-checking important emails to clients. For the very important ones, you may want to save it in drafts for a while, and re-read it with fresh eyes.

17. Practice the 24-Hour Rule When Upset

In Tips for More Effective Email Communication, David Friedman recommends a specific rule for the point above: “If you compose an email in anger, wait a predetermined period of time before sending it”.

It’s never a good idea to send an email when you’re angry. Those emails are rarely good for business. Waiting at least 24 hours will save you having to apologize and have to mend fences. 24 hours is usually enough time to see the situation with a better perspective.

I’d love to hear of any further hints you have. How do you improve your online communication, making your own communication clearer, and learning to better understand your clients? Let us know in the comments.

Adapted from:

1. Do you consider yourself a successful e-communicator?

2. What difficulties does one face while communicating online?

3. Add your own ideas on how to be an active listener on the Web to the list.

III. Applying the model

Exercise 1. Imagine that a friend of yours asks you to give him or her some advice on how to improve listening skills. Share some tips on enhancing attention, interpretation, retention and retrieval.

Exercise 2. List ten responses that can be made by an active listener to express feedback.