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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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For Valentine’s Day, promise to be a better listener, says Minnesota State Mankato’s nationally recognized listening expert

Nanette Johnson-Curiskis

As you’re considering thoughtful gifts to give your loved one for Valentine’s Day, Professor Nanette Johnson-Curiskis offers this idea: Promise to be a better listener.

2007-02-12

As you’re considering thoughtful gifts to give your loved one for Valentine’s Day, Professor Nanette Johnson-Curiskis offers this idea: Promise to be a better listener.

 

This gift can come from either partner, she says. Although men are typically more often accused of being the worse of the two sexes when it comes to listening, women can be just as guilty. The problem is that men and women listen differently, said Johnson-Curiskis, a speech communication professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the International Listening Association’s 2005 Outstanding Listening Educator of the Year.

 

The biggest difference between the two genders is how men and women exhibit verbal and non-verbal communication while listening. Women, for example, use a lot of verbal and non-verbal communication, such as nodding their head, saying “uh-huh” and asking for details. Men, on the other hand, use very little verbal and non-verbal communication, which can give the impression that they’re not listening.

 

Another difference is that women are interested in details, while men are more concerned with “big-picture” information, which can make them appear that they are disinterested. For example, if a speaker was talking about visiting his or her mother in a distant city, a woman would want to know details of the visit: what the mother was wearing, what was for lunch, the activities they took part in, what the weather was like, etc. Men would simply want to know if the mother was OK and why the speaker visited her, which could appear that men weren’t listening when, in fact, they were simply disinterested in additional details.

 

While men’s lack of verbal and non-verbal communication may make them look like they’re “spacing out” when they should be listening, women may communicate too much, which can be interpreted by male speakers as interruptive, Johnson-Curiskis said.

 

Johnson-Curiskis offers these tips for those who want to become better listeners:

 

  • Stop everything and listen. Stop watching TV. Stop cooking. Stop playing with the kids. Stop wrenching on the car. Stop everything and give the speaker your undivided attention.
  • Men should use some verbal and non-verbal communication, like nodding their head and uttering an occasional “uh-huh.” Women should cut down on their communication.
  • Be a responsible listener. Don’t think about your response when you should be listening. Concentrate on what the person is saying and the emotion behind the message. Demand that the speaker explains his or her thoughts clearly.
  • Be a responsible speaker. Speakers have a responsibility to communicate clearly and watch their listeners’ non-verbal communication. If listeners look confused, ask if they need a better explanation or additional information.
  • Be ready to listen. There’s a good time to listen and a bad time. If you’re about to leave for an important engagement or are in the middle of important and stressful work, that typically is not a good time to listen. Ask if the conversation can take place later.

 The consequences of poor listening habits can be significant, especially for couples. It can lead to misunderstandings, mistrust, stress and tension in a relationship.

 

Good listening habits have been the topic of Johnson-Curiskis’ “Effective Listening” course for about eight years at Minnesota State Mankato, which is one of only about 30 universities nationwide that offers such as course. “It’s important to teach people how important listening is,” she said. “My course makes people aware of the different kinds of listening and the pitfalls of poor listening habits. Most of what I do is teach teachers how to be good listeners and how to pass that on to their students.”

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