Good communication has focus. Listeners are present. They are present because they want answers. They want to learn. Their primary concern is not “just to keep a conversation rolling.” We can optimize our world by integrating classes in elementary education that will teach kids effective listening skills and how to communicate, but we don’t.
How many times in your life have you been in an argument with someone because they weren’t listening, or because somebody felt like you weren’t listening? In “Understanding and Developing the Skills of Oral Communication: Speaking and Listening,” Richard Hunsaker reports that 75 percent of the time we are listening, we are too distracted, forgetful, or preoccupied to understand what is being said and to communicate back appropriately. It occurred to me this week during many different conversations that people truly have horrible listening skills.
I took an interpersonal communications class in college. I remember being fascinated with that class, probably because of the information I was given that I had never been given before. In elementary school, we are taught to sit down and listen. In childhood, our parents are constantly telling us to stop talking and listen. In college, we are told to sit, listen, and take notes. Our learning is perpetual memorization. Even as I drive, I sing along to songs on the radio and have a sudden realization that I had never really listened to the lyrics.
Listening is the key to learning. 85 percent of what we learn comes from the simple act of listening which, ironically, is not simple. If we are being told our entire lives that we need to listen, then why are we not being taught effective listening skills in our elementary education from a very young age? The only reason that I learned the listening skills that I have is because I chose to take that interpersonal communications class. It wasn’t even mandatory in college!
Elementary education is necessary to teach kids effective listening skills
Only two percent of Americans have had formal education in listening. Two percent! That doesn’t make sense to me. Being able to hear is so fundamental in life that infants’ hearing is tested shortly after birth, but we are not taught to stop planning a response to someone while they are talking, or that a brief pause for understanding and collecting thoughts is natural before a person responds. If I pause after someone speaks to me, they usually immediately think that I was not listening or that I was too distracted in my head to hear them. It is not a social normalcy to take a moment to reflect after a person speaks. That is absolutely backwards.
Elementary education should teach kids effective listening skills. Basic communication should happen in kindergarten, and it should continue throughout grade-school years. We tell kids to listen, but the majority of us have not been taught how to listen and communicate properly. We tell them to listen, but we don’t teach kids what they need to know so that they can develop effective listening skills! It is our fault that kids won’t listen to us. It is time to change that!