Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? Some of us think that we are, but never analyze our behaviors or ask people if they think that we are paying attention. But listening is an important skill for librarians. Of course, the obvious is the reference interview, making sure that you have the best information for the client's problem--but we need our listening skills when our managers or colleagues give us directions, when we attend committee meetings--especially when we are learning about a new topics, such as student awards--and we need our listening skills in the interview.

Listening is an active process: you need to know how to select information that people say to you and repeat it, so they know that you get it. Therefore, it is not enough to just listen, but to listen and repeat or listen and respond.

For managers--or anyone who hopes to be a manager--Leila's House of Corrections has a video on how to listen.

You can also practice listening:
  • When you take phone messages, are you an uh-huh-er, just grunting your responses and saying, yeah, I'll make sure she gets that? Start reading back the message you have recorded and ask if this is the correct message. Ask if they have anything to add, and make sure that you have a courteous sign-off that mirrors theirs, not just a thunk down of the phone.
  • Instead of reading a recipe and creating a meal, listen to a recipe on a podcast and make while listening. Obviously, you will need to listen more than once, especially when assembling the ingredients, but because this is an active exercise of input, the recipe, and output, dinner that tastes good, you are practicing active listening. 
  • Many librarians love books and reread or write down favorite lines. But do you love audiobooks as much, and, if so, can you repeat back the lovely line that you just heard? Here's a test: use the bookmarking feature (or archaic rewind), say the line out loud and check to see if you are right.
  • Raise your standards. Are you really hearing what people say, or are you content with the gist of it? Recently, I have noticed that I don't always hear all of the lines that are spoken on TV--age probably, but probably a result of years of headphone abuse--and I used to content myself with the gist of it. But if you watch Pushing Daisies or a frenetic episode of the West Wing, you're lost. Don't be satisfied with the gist of it anymore.
Listening is more than just pouring words in your ear, it includes some output and a cogent response. Test your listening skills to see if you really are as proficient as you believe.

You may already be a listening "expert": what tips or exercises do you have for people to improve their listening skills?

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