While I start this story, how about you get in your listening mode…
According to research, we are not very good at listening. This is disheartening when you consider the importance of listening: learning, understanding, enjoyment, etc. Apparently, we listen to, and recall, between 25 and 50 percent of what we listen to. This means that whenever you are talking to your spouse or boss, they may not be listening to all you are saying. However, it also means that when they are talking to you, they are receiving the same courtesy. Hopefully the bulk of the message is found in that 25-50%.
How do I improve my listening if it is automatically so low?
In order to improve, it would behoove you to learn active listening. Active listening refers to a technique that is often associated with coaching. Don’t let that scare you away, as you don’t need to be a “life coach” or anything like that. It is simply making a conscious effort to not only hear the words coming from the other party, but to also understand the entirety of the message.
It help to think about all of the things that happen when you are listening to someone. You may be distracted by any number of events in your immediate area, or by your counterpoint that you are planning for when they stop talking. In some cases, your listening may be interrupted simply because you are bored and your mind wanders. Knowing that these are possibilities should help you to identify when it is happening and re-focus back to the discussion.
How can I control my listening?
Experts suggest that in some cases it helps to repeat back the other party’s words in your head to reinforce the message. They also recommend actively engaging in the conversation to let the other person know you are listening. These affirmations can be based on body language, such as nodding, or through “uh huh” and other vocalizations. The same experts will point out, though, that you must be careful as some of these affirmations may be misconstrued as agreeing with the speaker.
Great, now instead of listening, I’m accidentally agreeing…
To keep this from occurring, it is necessary to interject from time to time and say things such as “what I’m hearing is…” followed by how you interpret the message. This provides further affirmation that you are listening while also providing reflection points that can be used for discussion. It is important to note, however, this must be a careful interjection rather than an interruption.
In closing, keep in mind that when we talk, we are not learning. We are telling others what we know. To listen is to learn, and when you consider return on investment, learning wins every time.