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Critical Listening Guide for the Workplace

May 12, 2021
4 Min Read
Photo by
Dana Chan

Table of contents:

Define listen

According to Merriam-Webster, hearing is defined as the "process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli." While listening is described as "paying attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration."

As you can see, there's a huge distinction between listening and hearing. Hearing is an inherent function, while listening is one of many communication skills. To break it down further, there are various types of listening. For example, there's appreciative listening, comprehensive listening, evaluative listening, and empathic listening. In this article, we'll being taking a deeper dive into critical listening.

Critical listening definition

Critical listening is listening to evaluate the message from the speaker. Part of being a critical listener is effective listening-- listening to all parts of the conversation (from the big picture to the small details), analyzing the message, and coming to your own conclusion.

When engaging in critical listening, you're also tapping into your critically thinking skills. That means not taking everything at face value. You make judgments and inferences based on what you hear and see from the speaker. Essentially, it's your job to fact-check and valid what is being said.

Building critical listening skills

Now, that you've got a fair idea about critical listening, it's time to start building up your critical listening skills with your team. Remember, only rigorous practice will help you become an effective critical listener and build your team management skills .

  • Use common sense. Relying on your common sense can act as a warning system for you. If what the speaker is saying seems off or inconsistent, listen to your intuition. If you run into illogical points or exaggerated language, take the opportunity to dive deeper before accepting or rejecting the message.
  • Avoid assumptions. It's important when you listen, to stop making assumptions and place your biases in the back burner. Instead, focus on the facts and questions that can help the speaker clarify their message. Listening exercises can help with this.
  • Welcome new ideas. The truth is, many of us have a tendency to listen to information aligns with our beliefs and then zone out the stuff that doesn't. Part of critical listening, is being open to ideas that we don't agree with and evaluate it to our fullest extent.
  • Take notes. Sometimes the conversation with your peer may be rich. We recommend recording careful, selective notes to help you keep track of the important points. Take notes will keep you engaged in the conversation and help you see the big picture as well as the small details.
  • Push out the empty questions. Remember, try to avoid interrupting the speaker. And especially avoid asking empty questions that can disrupt the flow of their thoughts. Instead, concentrates on deeper questions that probe the speaker to give more thoughtful responses.
  • Give candid feedback. Critical thinking and team collaboration starts with feedback. That's how you and your team will improve your listening skills overall. Ask your team members for feedback when it comes to your body language, listening, and analytical skills.

Critical listening with your team

When engaging in critical listening, you're also critically thinking. You're making mental judgments based on what you see, hear, and read. Here's how critical listening will positively impact your critical thinking skills. For example:

  • Making sound judgements and decisions
  • Cultivating a problem-solving mindset
  • Creating logical connections between concepts
  • Digging deeper for the truth
  • Asking probing and clarifying questions
  • Challenging the status quo

Food for thought

We've ​all had painful experiences of being ignored or misunderstood. Not to mention grappling with various forms communications like asynchronous and synchronous. However, before we start communicating we have to first hone out listening skills. After all, the greatest gift one human can give to another is listening, to be exact critically listening.

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