Stages of Listening: Definitions & Process

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  • 1:09 Taking in Information
  • 1:58 Understanding
  • 2:31 Evaluating
  • 3:21 Responding
  • 4:05 Remembering
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

What does listening entail? There's more to it than meets the... ear. In this lesson, explore the five stages of listening and test your understanding, and listening, with a brief quiz.

What Is Listening?

Listen up! Hey, nice work; you can listen! A lot of people really don't understand everything that this entails, and for something so important, listening is often misunderstood. Listening is the conscious awareness and interpretation of sounds. That makes it different from the subconscious reflex of receiving sound. You hear noise all the time, but listening implies paying attention, being aware of sounds, and giving those noises some sort of meaning.

Just think of the differences between having background music and say, going to a concert. In one, you hear music, and it's relaxing and nice, but at a concert, you are putting a conscious effort into listening. We do this in every aspect of our lives, and communication is no exception. We've all been part of conversations where we weren't really listening. Listening is a real skill and, as it turns out, true listening is a multiple-stage process. A 5-stage process, in fact. Don't believe me? Just listen.

Taking in Information

Right now, you're listening to my voice. Or if you're not - hey, pay attention! So at this moment, somewhere deep in your mind, sound waves are being translated into structures that your brain interprets. That's the first stage of listening: receiving, or the reception of sound waves and recognition of those as a specific sort of sound. For example, your brain is recognizing these sounds as words. A dog's bark, the rain, a trumpet, my voice, all of these sound different to you and engage different parts of your brain. We call the ability of the brain to accurately identify types of sounds attending, and this is crucial to the first stage of listening.


Now that your brain has recognized that the sounds you've just heard are words, it goes on to the second stage: understanding, in which you determine the context and meaning of each sound. Bob, goat, fish, pancakes. In the receiving stage, your brain recognized that these are words. But in the understanding stage, your brain gives those words meanings, and you recognize that I'm just talking nonsense.


At this point, you've heard noises, you've recognized them as words, and you've given them meaning. But now you've got to decide what to do with that information. The evaluating stage is when your brain critically assesses the information being processed. What does this information mean to you? What do you think about it? How do you feel about it?

When you listen to music, or especially when you listen to a conversation, it creates a response. Sometimes it's a gut feeling, sometimes a voice in the back of your head, but that information has been processed and evaluated, and you've got to make a decision about how to handle it. In a conversation, that means choosing to respond or not. In this lesson, it's more a matter of choosing to believe that what I'm saying is accurate. It is, by the way; don't worry!

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