The Importance of Listening
Listening -- we do it constantly. So why read an article to learn what we
already know how to do? Listening is natural!
Or...is it? Ineffective listening is one of the most frequent causes of:
|lower employee productivity and morale
|billions of dollars of increased costs and lost profits
|increased employee turnover|
Ineffective listening is also acknowledged to be one of the primary
contributors to divorce and to the inability of a parent and child to openly
And, people view poor listeners as self-centered, disinterested, preoccupied,
and social boors!
If all of these negatives result from ineffective listening, why don't we
- 1. Hard Work
- Listening is more than just keeping quiet. An active listener registers
increased blood pressure, a higher pulse rate, and more perspiration. It
means concentrating on the other person rather than on ourselves.
- 2. Information Overload
- In today's society there is enormous competition for our attention from
advertisements, radio, TV, movies, reading material, and more. With all
these incoming stimuli, we have learned to screen out that information that
we deem irrelevant. Sometimes we also screen out things that are important
- 3. Rush to Action
- We think we know what the person is going to say, so we jump in and
interrupt, rather than taking the necessary time to listen and hear the
- 4. Speed Difference
- There is a considerable difference between speech speed and thought speed.
The average person speaks at about 135 to 175 words a minute, but can listen
to 400 to 500 words a minute. So, the poor listener spends all that time
between the speed with which he listens and the speed with which he talks,
on daydreams ... or on thoughts of what he is going to say next... or in
mentally arguing with the person speaking. It's like listening to two voices
at the same time.
- 5. Lack of Training
- We do more listening than speaking, reading, or writing, yet we receive
almost no formal education in listening. Remarkably, the average student
gets less than one half year of listening education through her first 12
years of schooling!
Although many people assume they are good listeners, few actually are. The
average employee spends about threequarters of each working day in verbal
communications. Nearly half of that is spent on listening. Incredibly, the
average employee's listening effectiveness is only 25%. Today, more and more
companies are discovering that one bad listener within the managerial ranks can
cause much more damage than a number of good listeners can correct.
The normal, untrained listener is likely to understand and retain only about
50% of a conversation, and this relatively poor percentage drops to an even less
impressive 25% retention rate 48 hours later. This means that recall of a
particular conversation that took place more than a couple of days ago will
always be incomplete and usually inaccurate. No wonder people can seldom agree
about was discussed!
Listening well -- listening actively -- is obviously important, but how does
it really benefit you?
With all of these benefits, I'm sure you agree that listening is more than just
a natural behavior and that it requires some work to improve. But, what's the
secret to improving your listening skills?
|1. Improves the environment at work, at home, and in sales.
|2. Reduces relationship tensions and hostilities.
|3. Saves rime by reducing mistakes and misunderstandings.
|4. Reduces employee turnover.
|5. Leads to early problem solving.
|6. Increases sales and profits.|
To listen effectively, you must C A R E S S those you're listening to:
-C- Concentrate -- focus your attention on the speaker and only on
the speaker. This means eliminating or ignoring internal distractions (your
own thoughts) and environmental disruptions (noise, passersby, telephone,
etc.). If possible, the best tactic is to create a receptive, distraction-free
environment for the conversation.
-A- Acknowledge -- acknowledge your speaker by demonstrating your
interest and attention. This should be done both verbally and non-verbally.
For example, it's important to let the person know you're listening by saying,
"Uh-huh," "I see," and so on. At the same time, be sure to
give nonverbal feedback, such as nodding your head, using good eye contact and
slightly leaning toward the speaker.
-R- Research -- gather information about your speaker through the
skillful use of questions and statements. You need an inquiring mind to keep
the conversation going so it's a dialogue, not a monologue. Play off the theme
of the speaker's message. Ask questions that increase your understanding and
draw the speaker out. Start with broad, openended questions, then follow
with specific, closed-ended questions as the conversation progresses. Follow
each topic of conversation to its logical conclusion. Use questions to expand
the discussion, clarify unclear points, or redirect the conversation to
another topic area. Give verbal feedback that you understand what is being
said and felt.
-E- Emotional Control -- exercising emotional control means dealing
successfully with highly charged subjects or sensitive words and statements in
a manner that allows you to remain focused on the theme of the speaker's
message. To exercise emotional control, it helps to be aware of your
sensitivities, which include disinterest in the subject under discussion,
emotionally charged words, bad grammar, a limited vocabulary, or topics such
as religion and politics. You might also be overly sensitive to the speaker's
poor posture, unkempt appearance or accent. Being aware of sensitive areas
helps you control, or preferably eliminate, your emotional reactions, allowing
you to concentrate on the speakers message.
-S- Sensing -- keep your eyes and ears open to the vocal and visual
messages, in addition to the verbal message. Be an astute observer of body
language -- hands, facial expressions, and body postures -- to notice
departures from the "norm" for that person. In addition, listen for
emotions conveyed in the speaker's vocal qualities -- speed, volume, pitch,
rhythm, inflection and clarity. Taken together, your vocal and visual
observations will help you determine the speaker's emotional state and intent,
as well as the speaker's content.
-S- Structure -- structuring is listening primarily to the verbal
component -- the content -- of someone's message. The structuring process
revolves around three primary activities -- indexing, sequencing, and
comparing. Indexing refers to taking mental or written notes of the topic or
major idea; the key points being discussed; and the reasons, sub-points,
and/or supporting points.
Sequencing is listening for order or priority. Sometimes someone tells you
something in which the order is very important, or you are given instructions or
directions where the order is crucial. Comparing is concentrating on the points
that the speaker is making so that you can discriminate between fact and theory,
positive and negative, actual and projected, advantages and disadvantages. As
you listen, you're involved in a continual process of comparing ideas, options,
attitudes, facts, feelings and beliefs. You need to keep track of the speaker's
Although the six skills are all relatively simple to learn, implementing them
may be a more difficult task, because to do so means breaking through a barrier
of poor listening habits that most of us have developed over a lifetime.
The payoff for improving your listening skills and becoming an active
listener is obviously enormous. The benefits are yours simply for the --