Genuine listening is hard work; there is little about it that is mechanical…  We hear with our ears, but we listen with our eyes and mind and heart and skin and guts as well.–Alfred Benjamin

Hearing versus Listening. Do you consider them to mean the same thing? We’re here to share how and why they are very different.

We hear things without any effort or thought. In reality, most of us have the ability to tune out what we view as distractions or if we view the information as inconsequential. Listening on the other hand requires focus, and in general includes being attentive to what is being said and processing the message with the intent to understand (and in most cases we’re interested).

It’s been reported that words represent only 7% of what we “hear”, that volume, pitch, rhythm, and tone account for 38%, and that facial and body language represents 55%. No wonder it takes energy (and focus) to be an active listener.

Below are some reminders for improving our listening skills:

  • No interrupting
  • No multi-tasking
  • Be aware of body language, expressions, and tone
  • Listen for underlying meanings
  • Be open to differing views
  • Retain eye contact (this helps with attention levels)
  • Don’t suggest words or finish sentences when a pause occurs
  • Don’t solve or judge
  • Ask probing questions to obtain clarity and recap what you think you’ve heard

Something else to be aware of is “selective” listening. Are there individuals that you seem to always be fully engaged with and others that you have the inclination to “tune out”? Does the “deliverers” age, skill, gender, title, general demeanor affect your ability (and desire) to be an active listener? What else de-rails your ability to listen?

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 be attentive.

Do you have any other tips to improve one’s ability to be an active listener?

Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.–Carl Rogers