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#WFH:Do You Actively Listen?

Studies conducted using animals suggest simi-lar results. Animals remember behaviorally relevant information and sounds by storing a memory code in the cortex. These are then activated depending on the motivational value of the stimuli. In other words, if it is something the animal considers motivating they are more likely to tune in. The more important the sound, the more specifically tuned the response becomes. We all have these experiences with our own pets and children. When you open the treat cabinet, the dog goes bananas, but when you say clean your room, your kids just don’t hear that. People selectively tune in, or not, often without being aware.

Voluntary attention is not a prerequisite of active listening. This is important. Incoming information is matched with what exists in our memo-ry. Specific, personally significant and behaviorally relevant stimuli are matched with templates stored in our brains. This matching mechanism begins with the onset of a sight, sound or smell and involves experienced-based neural connections that go be-yond sensory processing. Increased involvement leads to a more widely spread neural network and increased synthesis of neural activity. The more we are involved, the more actively we are likely to listen (Roye et al., 2010). Active listening can be cultivated. These skills are extremely important, but our educational system spends very little time teaching or cultivating them. Studies suggest that nearly half of us lack active listening skills. Active listening is the first step towards effective and intuitive listening.

We use auditory methods (written or oral) to communicate information most of the time. When we compose text messages or emails, we are communicating using writing. Listening, writing and speaking effectively are critical communication skills. Sending, receiving and understanding virtual communication requires us to master these skills. We have all received a message with incorrect spelling or poor grammar and focused on the mistake, but is that what we want to listen to? Our culture assumes that children and adults know how to listen. This assumption is not support-ed by research. In the virtual environment, it is important to produce context specific feedback that reaffirms our understanding and comprehension. Distracted listeners often produce affirmative feed-back but seldom use feedback that is specific or set in context. In the F2F environment the responses of a distracted listener can be detected by a different pitch, more headshaking and less intensity. If we much are using live videos to communicate online, distracted responses will be very like F2F responses. If we are communicating asynchronously, a distracted listener might use simple responses that are friendly, affirmative and detached like OK, K or Got it, but lack specific information and context.

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