Graduate Students Learn the Importance of Listening

Alan Ehrlich, President of The Center for Listening Disorders Research (CLDR), joined the Master of Arts in Corporate and Public Communication (CPC) Colloquium Speaker Series when he spoke to a group of CPC graduate students about listening on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Don Swanson, communication professor, introduced Ehrlich to those in attendance. “He’s been looking at listening for a long time, and the thing that fascinates me about Alan is that he’s constantly coming up with new insights and he’s constantly finding concepts from other disciplines,” said Swanson.

Ehrlich began his presentation explaining that there is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is one of the five senses, but listening is a series of complex cognitive processes that begins with hearing sounds. According to Ehrlich, listening, unlike hearing, should end with contextual understanding.

“The complexity of the listening process cannot be taught,” Ehrlich explained. “It is not something that we can learn, it is something we are born with.” According to Ehrlich’s research, people first begin to listen during their third trimester in the womb and once born, a person spends about 80 percent of their day listening and interpreting the sounds and noises heard around them.

“I learned that hearing and listening are two very different things, but that we mix them up and switch them out all the time,” said Katie Meyer, a first year graduate student in the CPC program.

According to a press release published on the University’s website, Ehrlich has been studying the issues of dysfunctional listening and its effects on learning and communication for the past four years. While doing his research, he found that in today’s society especially, people tend to create silence by filling it with noise. For most people, this is done by plugging in headphones and turning up music as a way to block out the sound coming from their surrounding environment. Ehrlich said this is a normal reaction to unwanted outside noise, especially for the younger generation.

“One out of five people aged 12 and older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult,” Ehrlich said. He explained that in some cases young children who get diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) merely just have hearing loss that greatly affects their work ethic and ways of communicating.

This is not to say that those diagnosed with these disorders were done so incorrectly, however. Ehrlich explained that although almost all ADHD and ADD cases are correctly diagnosed, there are some instances when a child simply suffers from some sort of hearing problem that eventually becomes detrimental to their communication skills.

Throughout the presentation, Ehrlich stressed the importance of going to an ear doctor. Even though hearing and listening are two different things, if a person’s hearing is lost, it will be physically impossible for them to ever listen properly again. Once a person can no longer hear there is no way to reverse the issue. This is why it is so important for a person to go to the doctor if they recognize any issues with their hearing, Ehrlich explained.

Meyer found the event to be very helpful, “I liked the presentation and the speaker very much. It was informational, but broken down in a way that made it easy to understand.”

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