Critical Listening

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What is "critical listening?"
Critical listening is a form of listening that if usually not mentioned, since it involves analysis, critical thinking and judgment. Making judgments during listening is often considered as a barrier to understand a person, and there's a lot of truth in that. However, critical listening occurs when you still want to understand what the other person is saying, but also have some reason or responsibility to evaluate what is being said to you and how it is being said. For example, if there's an upcoming election and you need to decide who to vote for, you probably use some form of critical listening when you watch a televised debate. You listen, AND you evaluate. While experts on learning and communication almost universally demean the importance and value of critical listening, when it comes to real life, listening critically is used every day. The key though, is to try to understand the other person FIRST, before one evaluates.

The subject of critical listening deserves much more attention than we can afford it here. But there are three things to keep in mind. These three things were outlined by Aristotle, the classical Greek rhetorician, more than 2,000 years ago in his treatise, The Rhetoric.* They are as follows: ethos, or speaker credibility; logos, or logical arguments; and pathos, or psychological appeals.

When listening to a message that requires a critical judgment or response, ask yourself, “Is the speaker a credible source, one who is both an expert on the subject and one who can be trusted to be honest, unbiased, straightforward?” Remember that a person may have personality or charisma. But these do not take the place of credibility. A person may even be highly competent and an expert in one area and simply not be informed in another.

Effective critical listening requires careful judgment about the expertness and trustworthiness of the speaker. In fact,...
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