Do you hear what they're saying?

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A social work student was learning the value of reflective listening - summarizing what someone has said to show you heard them accurately.  At the conclusion of several practice sessions, each student was asked to choose someone with whom they could practice their new skills.  Mary chose her eight-year-old neighbor boy.

"Hi Jimmy," she began.  "How have things been going?"

"Not very good," Jimmy responded.

"You haven't been doing too good? Mary questioned.

"No, I have been in trouble with my mom most of this week,"

"You have been in trouble with your mom?"

"Yes, and it's not my fault."

"Not your fault?"


"Mary, you seem to have the same problem my mom tells me I have," Jimmy exclaimed.  "It seems we both don't hear too well."

Kenneth Haseley, communications professor at Ivanovo State University Russia, offered some very interesting statistics on listening:  "Most of us spend 70-80 percent of our waking time communicating; nearly half of it - some 45 percent - is spent listening.

"But we are poor listeners.  We listen at an efficiency rate of only 25-50 percent.  One reason for this is that the average person speaks at a rate between 100-200 words per minute (WPM), but we can hear at a rate of at least 600 WPM.  That leaves a lot of time for our minds to wander.   When someone is talking most of us are thinking about how we're going to respond.

"Listening is hard work.  When you listen actively, your pulse goes up and you breathe faster.  To listen effectively, and to show that you are listening, do the following:  Take notes.  Repeat or paraphrase what the speaker has said.  Ask questions.  Ask the speaker to clarify or elaborate on what was said.  Don't interrupt.  Look at the speaker."

Listening at work is an important skill to develop.  You need to listen well for many reasons:  so that you can understand others, so you know what it is that you are supposed to do, so that you can predict and prevent possible problems, and so that you can set your goals for the future in a positive and realistic manner.

"Learn to listen," says H. Jackson Brown Jr. "Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly." 

Listening can be hard work, and some people are more challenging to listen to than others.  But when you find yourself tuning out what someone is saying you should ask yourself why.  Are you tuning them out because what they're saying is irrelevant or boring?  Or are you tuning them out because you don't want to hear what they're saying?\

Listening goes both ways.  If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.  To build better relations with your employees, customers, and managers, avoid these listening mistakes:Listening goes both ways.  If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.  To build better relations with your employees, customers, and managers, avoid these listening mistakes:

  • Discounting the issue.  Don't minimize the importance of what another person has said.  Saying, "Oh, it's not that big of a deal," can make another feel that you think their concerns are trivial.  The intent of a response should be to support and encourage.
  • Offering unwanted advice.  When you jump in to tell the other person what to do, you may be solving the wrong problem without understanding all the issues.  You may also send the message that you don't think the speaker is capable of solving his or her own problems.  Give advice only when asked.
  • Interrogating the person.  We often respond to a problem by analyzing it:  asking a lot of probing questions and judging the other person's response.   Asking too many questions or interrupting can alienate the person.  Let him or her finish before searching for solutions.
  • Monopolizing the conversation.  Being a good listener means giving the other person a chance to talk.  As simple as that sounds, learn to watch for signals that you are talking too much.  Sometimes actions speak louder than words.  Non-verbal cues are an important part of listening.

The famed editor Maxwell Perkins, who helped make Ernest Hemingway famous, decided to test his hypothesis that no one really listens to what others say at most social eventsThe famed editor Maxwell Perkins, who helped make Ernest Hemingway famous, decided to test his hypothesis that no one really listens to what others say at most social events.

Arriving late to a cocktail party, Perkins grasped his hostess's hand and said, "I'm sorry I'm late, but it took me longer to strangle my aunt than I had expected."

"Oh, I completely understand," said the hostess, smiling sweetly.  "I'm so happy you could come."

Mackay's Moral:  Two ears, one mouth:  nature's way of telling you to listen more than you talk.



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