I always preach that communication is one of the most important aspects of any relationship. If you are not communicating, fully and effectively how can you expect someone to understand you. However communication has two parts two it, vocalization and listening. I feel like a lot of times in this world we tune out a lot of what people say. Why do we do that? Are we too distracted? Do we just want to hear what it is we want to hear? I would agree with both of those statements. But people want to be heard, they want to feel like they matter, they want to feel that their feelings, their thoughts, their expressions are not only vocalized but heard.
I have always been a very visual learner and to listen to someone speak to me can sometimes be a very daunting task. In many cases, it’s not because I think the person is boring, or the person is uninteresting or that the information that the person is presenting is dull..it is just…my mind tunes it out. I am one of those people who would much rather jump in and have hands on experience than listen to someone talk about something for an hour. So why is that? I think part of the problem is that I need to work on developing my listening skills…I need to live to listen.
I think Julian Treasure is right when he says, “Listening is our access to understanding. Conscious listening always creates understanding.” To further this notion, Gordon Hempton said, “When we’re truly listening, we have to anticipate that we might become changed by what we heard.” First off, an aside on Gordon Hempton. Hempton is The Sound Tracker. He is an acoustic ecologist who has spent over 30 years of his life traveling around the world recording the sounds of nature without any “manmade” noises interfering. The job seems pretty cool, and you can learn more by going to soundtracker.com
Mind over Matter:
Our mind can work much faster than we as humans can speak. Humans can speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute, whereas our minds can probably in take about 400 words per minute. Because our minds work so much faster than we as humans can present, our mind wonders. So when it comes down to it, we only use about 25% of our mental capacity to listen to an average speaker. With that in mind…there is another 75% of our mental capacity sitting there bored, urging us to find a distraction, make a distraction or do anything other than listen to the person speaking.
Dr. Ralph G. Nichols, a longtime professor of rhetoric says that to define a “good listener” it is someone who truly gives 100% attention to the speaker. Now how many of us would then consider ourselves to be good listeners? Whether that’s because we are checking our phone or doing some sort of other multitasking such as thinking about what we are going to each for lunch, or how can we ever get through our enormous to do list.
Dr. Nichols said, “The most basic of all humans needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to truly listen to them.” Nichols has created a “Top 10” list of worst listening habits that we employ:
1. Call the subject matter uninteresting
You go to a meeting, the chairman announces the topic or you see it on a program, and say to yourself, “Gee, how dull can it get anyhow? You’d think they could get a decent speaker on a decent subject.” So you’ve convinced yourself the topic is uninteresting and you turn to the many other thoughts and concerns you’ve stored up in your mind for just such an occasion — you start using that unoccupied 75 percent of your mental capacity. A good listener, on the other hand, might start at the same point but arrives at a different conclusion. The good listener says, “Gee, that sounds like a dull subject and I don’t see how it could help me in my work. But I’m here, so I guess I’ll pay attention and see what the speaker has to say. Maybe there will be something I can use.”
2. Criticize the delivery or appearance of the speaker
Many of us do this on a regular basis. We tend to mentally criticize the speaker for not speaking distinctly, for talking too softly, for reading, for not looking the audience in the eye. We often do the same thing with the speaker’s appearance. If speakers aren’t dressed as we think they should be, we probably tend not to listen closely or we may immediately classify the speaker as a liberal or conservative, a hippie or a square. But if we concentrate on what the speaker is saying, we may begin to get the message and we may even get interested. Remember, the message is more important than the form in which it is delivered.
3. Become too stimulated
We may hear a speaker say something with which we disagree. Then we can get so concerned that our train of thought causes us to spend more time developing counter arguments so that we no longer listen to the speaker’s additional comments. We are busy formulating questions in our mind to ask the speaker, or we may be thinking of arguments that can be used to rebut the speaker. In cases like this, our listening efficiency drops to nearly zero because of over-stimulation. So, hear the speaker out before you judge him or her.
4. Listen only for facts
Too many of us listen for facts and, while we may recall some isolated facts, we miss the primary thrust or idea the speaker is trying to make. Be sure that your concern for facts doesn’t prevent you from hearing the speaker’s primary points.
5. Try to outline everything that is being said
Many speakers are so unorganized that their comments really can’t be outlined in any logical manner. It’s better to listen, in such a case, for the main point. A good listener has many systems of taking notes and selects the best one to fit a speaker.
6. Fake attention
This is probably one of the more common bad listening habits. If you’re speaking to a group and suddenly you become aware that most of your audience is sitting with chin in hand staring at you, that is a good signal that attention is being faked. Their eyes are on you but their minds are miles away. We probably have developed our own faking skills to a high point. Let’s recognize what we’re doing and eliminate faking as a poor listening habit.
7. Tolerate or create distractions
People who whisper in an audience of listeners fall into this category. Some
distractions can be corrected (closing a door, turning a radio off) to improve the listening atmosphere.
8. Evade the difficult
We tend to listen to things that are easy to comprehend and avoid things that are more difficult. The principle of least effort will operate in listening if we allow it to do so.
9. Submit to emotional words
We’re all aware of the emotional impact of some words. Democrat and Republican are emotional words for some people. So are northern and southern for others. There are hundreds of examples. Don’t let emotional words get in the way of hearing what a speaker is really saying.
10. Waste thought power
Nichols’ 10th bad listening habit is the one he feels is most important. It is wasting the differential between thought speed and the speed at which most people speak. Nichols describes 3 important ways to overcome this differential by:
Train the Speaker:
I do understand that actively listening is a two way process. I wish that people who give presentations are more cognizant of what they are like when they are speaking though. It shouldn’t just fall on the listener to listen, but also on the speaker to be engaging, upbeat and dynamic. Studies always show that on average, listening to a 10 minute oral-speaker, listeners retain about 50% of the information given. 48 hours later, that drops down to about 25% of what the speaker said. To me, those speakers that are the most engaging, most entertaining, most dynamic are the ones that truly stick out in my mind and cause e to retain more of the information.
I know that I have a hard time listening, especially to large chunks of information, so I know that I definitely need to focus more on really tuning out all the distractions to effectively, actively and completely listen when someone is speaking but it is also my sincerest hope that people work harder to be more engaged and dynamic speakers.