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RISMEDIA, March 28, 2008-(MCT)-You may think of yourself as a good listener. Others might tell you so, as well. Odds are, you’re not.

Ask a first-grader what a teacher just said, and he or she can usually relate it with 90% accuracy, said Nanette Johnson-Curiskis, executive director of the International Listening Association, which is holding its annual convention in Portland starting Thursday.

By the time that student has reached middle school, the average accuracy rate drops in half, and the typical high school student can recount accurately only about 25% of what was said in a classroom.

“We make the assumption that simply because we can hear, we can listen,” Johnson-Curiskis said. “We are never taught how to listen.” Johnson-Curiskis teaches an “effective listening” class at the University of Minnesota at Mankato. The course is required for those getting a degree in speech education or English at the university, she said.

The ILA is heavily focused on education and research. Some of the topics scheduled to be discussed at the convention, which runs through Saturday at Holiday Inn by the Bay, are “Listening Capacity and Non-Verbal Listening Behaviors: Is There a Relationship?” and “Jimmy Carter: A Case Study in Presidential Listening.”

But the convention also offers a one-day track of seminars focusing on listening as it relates to business, with topics such as “The Secrets of Developing Listening Leaders” and “Contrary to Public Opinion, Listening is Hard Work and Requires Practice.”

Many companies fail to recognize the importance of listening, said Wandy Browne, a consultant on organizational development who is public relations and marketing chair of the Maine chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.

Browne’s organization worked with the ILA to develop the business-related seminar sessions, which will take place Thursday.

A lot of companies, Browne noted, know that communications is important, “but a lot of training about communications is how to speak to others, and not how to listen.” Lisa Alexander, manager of learning development for Wright Express in South Portland, said her company recognizes the dual nature of communication.

The company, she said, has a Toastmasters club that helps people develop better public speaking skills, but listening is an important component.

Those who aren’t speaking are expected to provide a critique and note things such as how many “uhs” and “ums” are uttered. That requires attentive listening, Alexander said.

Wright Express feels “listening is a competency” that has an effect on the bottom line.

“One of the differentiators for us is our customer relationships, and that’s based on listening,” she said, and the employees going to the ILA convention hope to sharpen their listening skills.

Browne said modern communication is faster and in many ways easier than arranging a face-to-face meeting, but it’s also hurting effective communications.

It’s not uncommon at a business meeting to see people typing e-mails or checking BlackBerrys, she said. And what’s being transmitted is often misconstrued, Browne said.

“What you lose is the context of meaning, of tone and body language,” she said. “Somebody may be kidding, and without the body language and the tone, you may miss that in the text.” Johnson-Curiskis said the fast pace of life also takes a toll, with people interrupting each other or composing their own answer instead of listening.

“People just don’t take the time,” she said. “You hear a trigger and you’re off on that thought and then you move on because of time constraints.” Effective listeners must learn to be patient, Johnson-Curiskis said.

Copyright © 2008, Portland Press Herald, Maine
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.