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Critical Listening & Thinking: Evaluating Others' Speeches

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  • 0:01 Listening as a…
  • 2:18 Analyzing the Speaker's Claims
  • 3:46 Evaluating Claims
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Critical listening skills go far beyond just hearing a speaker's message. They involve analyzing the information in a speech and making important decisions about truth, authenticity and relevance. Learn about critical listening and thinking skills in this lesson.

Listening as a Critical Thinking Activity

When we attend a speaking event, we are usually there to hear the speaker's message. Specifically, we are there because the message has meaning to us. This can be a lecture delivered by your favorite professor or a motivational speech by a famous public speaker. In any event, we listen intently and try to absorb as much of what is being said as possible. But, how do we know what we are hearing is actually true?

That's difficult to discern, but what we can do is take a few careful steps to better evaluate information we receive. This is critical thinking, and it involves analyzing the speaker's message and motives to assess the message for authenticity and truth. There are a few ways to do this. You can analyze the speaking situation, or the context in which the message is being sent.

There is no shortage of infomercials telling us about how we can get rich quick, from buying and selling real estate to selling stuff on the Internet. There are a million ways to make a million dollars. However, if you listen to the message carefully, there is generally a catch. It may be to purchase a set of CDs or to join a club. At that point, it becomes obvious that the speech is less about you becoming a millionaire and more about the speaker selling his get-rich-quick methods. That is the situation. And after analyzing the situation, you may decide not to quit your day job.

Another way to determine the authenticity of a message is to analyze the speaker's ideas. A good speaker will provide support for his ideas. Maybe a few experts in the local real estate market can vouch for the speaker's confidence in a booming real estate market. If this happens, the message becomes more believable. However, if the local rags tell a different story by highlighting soaring foreclosure rates in your area - buyer beware!

You can also listen for clues about whether the buyer actually experienced the claims he is making or is basing his claims on someone else's experience. If the speaker is not a licensed real estate agent or has never purchased a home in the past, this is a good indication that he is using the experiences of others to make his claims. There are two ways in which we can get to the bottom of this.

Analyzing the Speaker's Claims

The first thing you should do is put the speaker's ideas to the test by identifying support for the claims. This means performing research to determine the process the speaker used to actually gather his facts and information. Look for things like dates and sources.

We all experienced the pinch of the economy in 2006. We heard stories about people losing homes. So, if the speaker uses information about a real estate boom dating back to pre-2006, there is a good chance the information is not relevant and probably should be dismissed.

The source of the information is also something to consider. Real estate sales in one part of the country may not be the same as in your neighborhood. Take, for instance, places like Florida and Nevada - both were hit by the recession. If the speaker is using sources from locales that were not hit very hard by the economy, the information simply may not apply to your neck of the woods.

Next, you may want to evaluate the argument the speaker is making. Try to figure out whether the speaker is using emotional appeals, a logical argument or actual evidence to state his case. Sometimes, a speaker will use puffery to stress a point. This means to overstate a point to make it more appealing. It's perfectly legal, but it can be misleading. This is especially true if you have not done your homework. When it comes to evaluating an argument, there are a few things you can do to get the skinny on the information.

Evaluating Claims

First, it's a good idea to differentiate between observations and inferences. To observe is to actually witness something. This can be by sight, touch or any of the senses. A ride through your neighborhood may reveal an abundance of foreclosures or 'for sale' signs. This is an observation that may reveal the true state of the real estate market regardless of the speaker's claims.

Inferences are different. They are merely generalizations based on information we already know. So, using inferences may not be a good idea. If you lived in your neighborhood for many years, you may feel like it is a great place to live, despite the changes. The inference, together with the speaker's zealous plan to sell you a get-rich-quick plan, may skew the truth.

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