Are you an active listener?

In our quick paced society of juggling schedules, meeting deadlines and multi-tasking,  we don’t always allow ourselves to take the time to listen to what’s going on around us and for that matter, what we’re being asked (or told).

We don’t always take the time to hear the whole story, and we’re quick to jump to solutions so we can move on to the next task at hand.

Do you think about your response before listening (and processing) what’s being said in its entirety? If so, you may need to improve your listening skills.

We’re guessing you know that listening is comprised of more than just words, but did you know that words only represent 7% of what we “hear”? There are actually 4 types of communication that affect what we hear–verbal, para-verbal, body language, and personal space. Volume, pitch, rhythm, and tone (para-verbal communication) account for 38%, and facial and body language represents 55%.

Listening takes work! Experts estimate that 70% of communication is filtered, and as a result, the intended message is not accurately received.

The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.
–Ralph Nichols

How Well Do You Listen?

Answer TRUE or FALSE to the following 11 questions to determine how well you listen.

  1. Listening is a learned skill that requires an active engagement.
  2. Hearing is an inactive skill affected by age, health, and interest.
  3. We speak at 300 words per minute. We listen 4 times faster, at 1,000-1,200 words per minute. Therefore, our minds frequently wander.
  4. All communication is received, but 70-90% of the data is screened out or altered by the receiver.
  5. Listening is perceived as a powerful skill by most people.
  6. We were born with two ears and just one mouth. Therefore, we should listen twice as much as we speak!
  7. Cultural tendencies do not affect our listening skills.
  8. Our brain often processes data forward (What do I say next? How do I defend myself? What shall I have for lunch?), or in reverse (Did I turn the car lights off? Did I get an e-mail back from…?).
  9. We can suspend judgment when listening by focusing on comprehension rather than details.
  10. Our ability to listen is not affected by meta-messages, the message within the message.
  11. Confirming understanding/stating alignment does not imply that you agree with the message.

Now score yourself! (Only #5 is false. All others are true.)

How did you do? Any surprises?

10-11 correct – WELL DONE!



13 Ways to Improve Listening Skills

If you scored less than 7 correct answers, try incorporating this tips for improving your listening skills. Even if you got a perfect score, it couldn’t hurt to brush up on these skills. Great leaders are continual learners!

  1. No interrupting
  2. Don’t suggest words or finish sentences when a pause occurs
  3. Listen, don’t solve or judge
  4. Listen for underlying meanings
  5. When appropriate, ask probing questions to obtain clarity
  6. Let the person know if more facts are required prior to decision making or for further discussions
  7. Be open to differing views
  8. Maintain eye contact (this helps with attention levels)
  9. Let the person know if you have accepted or rejected what they have said and the rationale why (it’s okay to disagree!)
  10. Be aware of when “selective” listening is likely to occur (age, skill, gender, not appreciated co-worker, relative, etc.)
  11. Be aware of your “non” listening behaviors ex. pencil tapping, raised eyebrows, blank stares, “zoning” out
  12. If time is an issue let the person know and schedule more time, or ask “let’s summarize what we’ve decided”
  13. Paraphrase the message, and recap agreed upon take-aways

Most Common Listening Problem

I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.
–Lee Iacocca

You may be surprised to learn that the most common listening problem is that we listen intently to some, neutrally to others, and not at all to a few.

Give it a minute to let it sink in. Can you identify individuals that you seem to always be fully engaged with and others that you have the inclination to “tune out”? You’re not alone!

Awareness is key. Pay attention to your “non” listening behaviors ex. pencil tapping, raised eyebrows, blank stares, zoning out, making shopping lists, etc. If you have a “history” of losing focus with a particular person, make an extra effort to use all the listening skills.

What listening skills do you consistently exhibit? What are your trouble spots?

Make a commitment to be an active listener and improve your listening skills!

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