Are You Listening?
The Powerhouse Example
A local “powerhouse” at a recent luncheon taught me an important business lesson. Observing her made it clear to me why she was so successful. She listened. I don’t mean she just “heard,” I mean she really listened. She listened with every fiber of her being. Every single person at the table was captivated. Why? Because with her listening skills, she made all of us feel that that we were important.
After observing this powerhouse in action, I decided that I, like so many other people, have taken this skill for granted. Assuming that listening is basically the same as hearing is a dangerous misconception. It led me to believe that effective listening is instinctive. This is not true.
The Brain Takes a Break
To become good listeners, we must first understand why so many of us are such poor listeners. It is well researched that, on average, we speak at a rate of 150 words per minute, but our minds process four times faster at 500 to 600 words per minute. Frequently, our brain simply takes a break from the conversation. It becomes bored.
Listening half-heartedly has become a fine art for many of us. We tune out to think about all the work piled on our desk, the proposal still needing to be written, what we’re cooking for dinner. And then, we quickly tune back into the conversation, picking up a few sentences, then tune out once again. Fortunately, since we think so much faster than we talk, it is possible to use our magnificent thinking machine, the brain, to become better listeners.
Missing Most of the Conversation
Listening can’t be a passive exercise-it must be active. Great concentration is absolutely necessary. It requires slowing your brain down, paying attention to every word, facial expression, tone of voice and gesture. Active listening isn’t easy, but it is well worth the effort.
In business, we spend more than 50% of our time communicating, with a lot of this time directly attributed to listening. Research studies indicate that we only listen with 25-50% efficiency. This means 50-75% of what we hear is never processed. We miss, in fact, most of the conversation!
Why Do We Tune Out So Often?
Frequently, we think we already know what the speaker is going to say, so we just listen with one ear. At other times we think we know more about a particular situation than the speaker, so we unconsciously block hearing. Sometimes the speaker’s lack of communication skills makes listening difficult.
To become an active, engaged listener, we must learn to listen with two ears, tune in to receive, hold our own thoughts in suspense and stop rehearsing what we’re going to say next.
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