5 Powerful Keys for Good Listening

November 13, 2019 by  

Although we spend approximately 60% of our communication time listening, we only retain 15-20% of what we hear and only if we really focus. Actually, two months after a conversation, we only remember around 25% of what was said. That is no surprise considering our average eight-second attention span, which makes listening concentration so difficult to achieve.

Conscious listening is the key to understanding. When we are fully present in conversations, when we really listen, we then have a chance to reduce redundancy, disappointment, resentment, complaining and confusion. Simply put, we understand better if we actively listen If you listen well you will improve the time you spend in meetings, enhance your personal and professional relationships and have less stress in your life.

Here are 5 keys that will help you to really listen, build on conversations, and eventually communicate more effectively.
Why listening is so hard:
1. In school, we are not really taught how to listen. While acquiring reading skills is a subject in itself, listening is often neglected. The irony is that later in life we actually listen more than we read. Most often, we are under the impression that we are listening, but we are actually just hearing things, while our mind is elsewhere.
Before we get to the part where we can get better, let us not blame ourselves that much and look more closely at the things that keep us from listening.

2. Vanity
Let’s face it, sometimes we tend to get too self-involved. Although someone else may be doing the talking, we often can’t help making it all about ourselves. Our ego makes us jump in and interrupt just to give our two cents, to moralize, or to throw in a joke. We focus on promoting our self-image instead of listening and contributing to the conversation to the benefit of all the participants.
Also, when we listen for too long, we worry that we will forget what we want to say. Therefore, our attention shifts to what we have to say. When we do that, we cut short our listening, we jump in with our own perspective before we have actually processed what the other person has said. When we do that we often do not actually “hear” what they said at all.
This shift of focus can sometimes take extreme forms, which detour the interlocutor from the course of conversation. When we approach a discussion thinking only of our own agenda, “our goal is to manoeuvre and manipulate the conversation and to come out better than the other person.” We are changing the conversation so that it suits our personal agenda.

3. Distractions
With so many things that demand our attention (phones, computers, apps etc.), it is difficult not to get distracted. We live and work in noisy environments, full of sound channels that inherently prevent us from easily reaching a state of conscious, focussed listening.
In addition, sometimes we might be experiencing physical, mental or emotional distress that prevents us from paying attention as our own personal issues will supersede anything that anyone is saying to us. It is not that we don’t want to listen, we simply can’t process two conversations at once (the one in our head and the one that the person is stating). If we are not honest about it, our colleagues will most likely translate our unavailability into a lack of intent/interest.
You can’t go wrong if you tell them the truth. A reassurance such as “I know it’s important for you to share this with me, but I can’t really focus right now and I want you to have my full attention. Can we discuss this later?” This honest approach will put them at ease and help them to understand that now is not a good time for you to process what they are trying to tell you.

4. The productivity push
Today’s fast-paced work environment constantly pushes us to be more productive, efficient and creative. We are expected to get more work done in less time. So, either we don’t have the time to listen actively, or we can’t afford it because we have too much to do. We need time not only to internalize what we are being told but also to acknowledge and filter the things that are quiet and subtle. When we are under a lot of pressure it is very difficult to process more information.

5. Our thoughts outpace our words
We think much faster than we talk. In our mind, we are always way ahead. So, as much as we might refrain ourselves from talking, hence interrupting, in our mind, we often do that by allowing our personal thoughts to “depart” and build on what is being said. Have you ever been in a lecture or even just in a conversation with someone, and suddenly you realize that you have not really heard anything they have said for the past 15 or 20 minutes? That is commonly called “wool-gathering” and it happens because our brain processes information at about 800-1000 words per minute and most people speak at about 150 words per minute which just too slow for our brain and it drops out and does its own thing.
The moment we start formulating a response in our mind, we stop listening. While we are way ahead with what we want to say, we remain way behind with what we are being told. Eventually, the speaker’s message is actually missed by us.

5 Habits that will make you a better listener
Unlike in any other form of communication, concentration while listening is the hardest to achieve. However, there are habits you can create so that you can listen conscientiously and build on conversations to the benefit of all participants.
1. Lend your ear out of curiosity, not generosity.
When you listen as a favour, you are not really open to embracing new perspectives or to be proven wrong. So, you are not gaining much, except for an inflated ego maybe (since you have been so generous).
Being curious conveys genuine interest and intent, which stimulate your speaker to elaborate and share more. Asking questions not only prevents you from wild guesses and mind-reading but also builds a deeper feeling of engagement and cements the story in the minds of those in the conversation.

Grow your business faster with better team communication!
In order to do this, you should ask open-ended questions like “How did that make you feel?”. As you are requesting clarification, your listener will be more likely to express deeper attitudes that will otherwise remain silent in the background.
Also, you should make sure you ask more questions than you give answers. This implies that you pay attention to your talk/listen ratio. This is something you might find hard to observe in the beginning, but you can try marking down your interventions vs. those of your speakers on a piece of paper.

2. Repeat back, it’s called active listening.
In spite of their aim to bring clarity, conversations sometimes lead to misunderstandings. That is because people’s ability to understand accurately what someone is saying is frequently hindered by interruptions, distractions, preconceived ideas, and egos.
To put it simply, your power of understanding starts with your ability to listen. It builds on curiosity, patience, and empathy. You cannot develop these most important skills overnight; they take time, commitment, and determination. However, you can start with a simple exercise called active listening. It is pretty basic: repeat back to the person speaking what you have heard. It helps you ensure that you really heard the message that they intended. At the same time, it shows that you are truly interested in what is being said.
With a simple question like “If I understood correctly, you said that…, didn’t you?” or small request “Could you repeat that, please?” the person talking has a chance to revisit their story, reword statements, and clear confusion, while you remember better.
Active listening creates an opportunity for mutual understanding. Because you are no longer accepting assumptions, you are now dealing with certainties. Imagine how effective meetings would be if team members resorted more often to active listening.

3. Show non-verbal encouragement.
You need to show the speaker that you are actually listening.
Sometimes, asking too many questions will break the conversation, in spite of proving you are genuinely interested in what is being said. However, you can still indicate that you are paying attention through less intrusive gestures. It can be anything from maintaining eye contact to a reassuring head nod or a friendly “mmmm” or “uh-huh” or “I see” utterance.

4. First listen to the entire message, then think of your response.
As hard as you may find it, you need to let the other person finish their message before you respond. When you are already thinking of an answer while the speaker is still sharing their message, you actually stop listening and will miss out on the complete information that is being delivered.
Other than that, if you are already assuming what the other person is thinking, you are actually inclined to accept only information that confirms your preconceived opinions. It is hard not to make assumptions, but it is better to check them out loud when your speaker is finished talking.

5. Refrain from moralizing or passing judgments.
It is not easy to let the other person talk all the way through, especially when opinions and beliefs clash. But when you interrupt someone to label or to argue against what they are saying, you are shutting yourself down. When you are too attached to your knowledge and experience, you are missing important messages that might reveal a different perspective and teach you new things. You cannot learn anything when you are talking or when you are formulating your rebuttal. You can only learn when you truly listen fully.

You should also consider that some truths are hard to tell; they require effort and courage. As you cut off the speaker to openly express your surprise, shock or fear, you are inadvertently altering their message, because your poignant reactions will most likely prompt them to adjust the heart of the matter. It doesn’t matter if it is just to avoid conflict or distress, or simply to keep themselves in the comfort zone. They are likely to get emotional, to the detriment of the conversation and their own state of mind.

The outcome: they might keep essential/enlightening information from you, they might avoid talking openly to you in the future, they might resent you, and all of this could prevent from having the chance to learn something new.
As hard as you might find it to let the other person talk, show some empathy. Even if you disagree, suspend your judgment until they have walked you through their experience. Put yourself in their shoes, see things from their perspective first and then share yours. If you adopt this approach you will be surprised at the things you might learn.

A short note for the impatient…..
Every time you hear yourself more often than the others, you are not exactly making conversation. You are doing personal broadcasting. While your audience might learn something from your monologue, you will hardly gain anything from them. Because they won’t have had a chance to speak up, and information-wise you are not really accumulating much.
The imbalanced talk: listening ratio makes the exchange of experience and knowledge in solo conversations unfair. An ideal ratio is 2:1. That is what you should aim for.
On the other hand, becoming a better listener takes practice and patience. If patience is not exactly your strongest point, you can try a quick formula coined by Julian Treasure, sound consultant and author of “Sound Business.” In one of his TED Talks on sound, Treasure recommends a simple exercise that you can easily try in your conversations. It’s called RASA.
The acronym, which in Sanskrit is a word in itself and means “essence”, is the abbreviation of the following recommendations:
• “RECEIVE” – pay attention to the person talking
• “APPRECIATE” – make little noises like “hmmm’, “oh”, “OK”
• “SUMMARIZE” –give feedback so that the speaker knows that the message sent was the one received
• “ASK” – ask questions afterwards.

Listening is not inaction.
We may hear well, but we don’t always use our ears for conscientious listening. Communication, whether in business or personal relationships, depends more on the spoken word than it does on the written word.

The effectiveness of our communication is dependent not only on how we talk but more importantly on how we listen. To be good listeners, we must resort to skills that we can acquire either through experience or training.

Aside from a series of habits that you can easily create with a little practice of some of the elements mentioned in this article. It is important to see listening not as inaction because keeping silent doesn’t necessarily mean you are not doing anything. It means you are actually paying attention, or at least it should.

In fact, listening allows us to do plenty: we show empathy, we allow the conversation to progress, we encourage the speaker to share more, we strengthen relationships, and we take a big step towards understanding. The level of mutual understanding is an indicator of the effectiveness of the communication process, which in the end is something we all strive for, whether at work or in our personal lives.