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Selective Listening Explained

        posted by , May 30, 2013

What is it?

Conventional wisdom says that the goal of listening is to fully understand what someone is saying.

In practice, people don't always fully listen.

People make choices when listening. They apply filters. They half-listen to get a general impression of what's said.

Definition: Selective Listening

Selective listening is a listening technique that filters and summarizes to achieve comprehension.

Selective Listening Explained

Selective listening is like a student with a highlighter.

When students study for a test they commonly use a highlighter to focus on key ideas in a textbook. They might skim over text that doesn't seem critical but focus on text that gets to the point.

The following are common features of selective listening:

  • Multitasking
    Giving listening less than full attention. For example, planning what you're going to say while someone is talking.

  • Skimming
    Deciding when to retain important information and when to ignore non-critical information.

  • Prioritizing
    Focusing on high priority information (e.g. when your boss speaks).

  • Summarizing
    Developing a general impression of what is said rather than memorizing an accurate account.

Is Selective Listening A Bad Habit?

Selective listening has a reputation as being a bad habit.

It's certainly a bad way to build rapport. People tend to know if you're fully listening to them. They tend to feel insulted if they catch you drifting off when they're talking.

Selective listening isn't as accurate as devoting your fully attention to everything that's said.

Despite these disadvantages, it's widely practiced.

It does have potential advantages. Selective listening allows you to filter and summarize information while multitasking.

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