Listening is the most-used communication skill we have — used more than writing, reading or speaking.
Yet how many of us put any effort into becoming better at it? Ever taken a course in high school or college on listening? Probably not … because we all think we’re pretty good at it already.
Listening deserves some attention and some effort. Our brains are moving at a speed much faster than anyone can talk. The radio industry knows this. That’s why they air commercials that have been sped up for the time segments intended to fit. We hear and understand 400 words per minute. The average person speaks about 125 words per minute. That time difference can be part of the problem, giving your brain a lot of time to wander all over the place while it’s hearing. This wandering means most of us are never fully engaged with the information we hear, so our retention will be low – 25% retention after 48 hours.
Really listening takes REAL effort. It takes focus and attention. It’s hard work.
Try these things to help you use that differential between speech and thought speed … and get the most when you’re listening.
- Face the speaker and make appropriate eye contact. It’s not necessary to stare the person down, but you should stop looking at your computer screen and turn toward them.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Hear the speaker out. Even though you may think you understand the point, midway through, keep listening. People vary in how they express themselves. Be a patient listener.
- Listen for primary points, rather than facts and insignificant details. What’s the main idea?
- You may disagree with what’s being said, but don’t start developing your counterargument in your head. This emotional reaction significantly reduces your ability to listen.
- Focus on what the person is saying, not what they look like, their accent, or mannerisms.
- Try anticipating the speaker’s next point. This helps you process the information and organize it.
- Identify the supporting elements the speaker is using. Are they further explaining their point? Getting emotional and driving the point home? Or using facts to support their point?
- Make periodic mental summaries. Short pauses allow you time to mentally summarize what’s being said.
- Take notes (if appropriate). It helps you evaluate and organize the speaker’s words.
- Discuss the information with someone. This further processes the information and helps with retention.
- Don’t interrupt while the speaker is talking. You may disagree. You may agree. But keep it to yourself until the speaker is finished.
- Ask questions for clarification. Ask, “Do you mean …?” Use your own words to paraphrase the message the speaker is trying to convey.
You can’t afford to have so-so listening skills. But great listening only comes with practice and attention. It’s not difficult. But mindful listening is an intentional process.