We live in a time where people talk way more than they listen. Either most people love the sound of their own voice, or they can’t possibly comprehend that someone else might have something useful to say. If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve seen where one person was obviously not listening but just waiting for “their turn” to talk, my bank account would rival Oprah’s.
I honestly think this inability to listen to other people has become an epidemic in our society. It’s downright troubling. I have been trying to figure out what has caused it and I think it’s a combination of three things:
1. Society’s Love of Multitasking
Have you noticed that giving your FULL attention to one specific task isn’t applauded by most people? What is appreciated is one’s ability to multitask. Multitasking, where you don’t give anything your full attention, is highly valued. But if you don’t give anything your full attention, how could the results possibly be the best ones?
Talk about distractions. It’s not enough that most of us multitask, but now we’ve got to have one to three tech gadgets all blinking and beeping and vying for our attention as well? Geez Louise.
3. We’re More Self-Involved
Our ancestors had very little time to think about how they were being perceived by others, what with trying not to die from plagues or consumption. Let’s be honest, if you live in the Western world, your life is pretty cushy. You go to a store to buy food, you have indoor plumbing and electricity, aspirin, antibiotics, and cars. Everything is done for you, which leaves you with plenty of time to think about how you relate to the world around you – AKA – what that world and everyone in it THINKS of YOU.
During conversations, self-involved people tend to formulate a response to what is being said instead of concentrating on what is actually being said. They do this because they want to come across as a smarty pants; someone in the know; someone in charge; someone capable and desirable and perfect.
When you consider these three causes, the effect is not so surprising. It’s no wonder not many of us are fully engaged in the conversations we’re having!!
Bad Communication Repercussions
What is the result of all this communication breakdown? Relationships and businesses fail, and sometimes patients die. Consider the following:
- The website YourTango.com surveyed 100 mental health experts to find out what were the main factors that lead to divorce. 65% of recipients said that communication problems were at the very top of the list. And 43% said “an inability to work together,” which is closely bad communication.
- A pilot study out of the University of Michigan found that communication breakdown between doctors and nurses is one of the primary reasons for patient care mistakes in the hospital. (Well now I’m even more scared of going to the hospital!)
- A Watson Wyatt study found that companies with good communication practices are more than 50% more likely to have turnover levels below the industry average. That means companies with bad communication have massive turnover rates.
- Project failures, which can cost companies sometimes millions of dollars, are often caused by a lack of communication.
- Customer satisfaction increases when communication skills increase.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Good communication is necessary for every facet of our lives to thrive, and good listening skills are necessary for good communication.
The Benefits of Active Listening
As the name suggests, active listening is when we give our full attention and focus to the person who is speaking. With passive listening, which is what most people do most of the time, you hear the words but don’t give any thought to the meaning underneath them. The entire message of the speaker is lost.
With active listening, intent is received, and ideas and opinions are truly shared and acknowledged.
Here are some of the top benefits of active listening:
Misunderstandings Are Avoided
Not understanding what has been said is obviously going to lead to mix-ups, mistakes, and potentially hurt feelings.
Relationships Can be Nurtured
Every single human being wants to be heard and understood. By actively listening to the person speaking to you, you are creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding. Once the speaker knows you are truly listening to them, they are more apt to open up and share their feelings, ideas and opinions.
Productivity is Improved
I can think of no other skill more important in the workplace than that of active listening. When information is conveyed easily and fully, there is no need to spend time or energy putting out fires. And that means time and energy can actually go toward accomplishing company goals.
Arguments are Resolved Quickly
In an argument, neither party listens to the other, which of course makes each person even angrier because they are NOT being heard. Often, just listening to someone you are in a disagreement with can soften and disarm them. When you show respect, you get respect. And when two people are respectfully listening to each other, disagreements can be easily resolved.
The bottom line is, active listening leads to better understanding, better relationships, and better productivity. I’d say that’s reason to develop your active listening skills.
How to Become an Active Listener
Active listening is a lot like meditation because it requires you to focus your attention for a period of time. And, as with mindfulness meditation, you will have to practice active listening each day. But the more you practice, the easier it will be.
Here are some tips that will help you start actively listening and being more engaged in the conversations you’re supposed to be having:
1. Be More Curious
You should listen to people not because it’s the polite thing to do but because you want to learn something. Curiosity is an awesome trait and it will help you on your quest to be an active and thoughtful listener.
2. Ask Questions
Asking questions is a way of encouraging the speaker to share even more information with you. By doing this, you seek to learn and not just constantly give your 2 cents. It’s funny how 2 cents can add up to millions of cents really quickly!
3. Repeat What You’ve Heard
It’s not enough just to hear the words the speaker is using, you’ve got to make sure you are receiving the intent or message underneath those words. Repeat back to the speaker what you heard them say. If the speaker concludes that you’ve got it right, you can move on to the next conversation point, if you’ve gotten it wrong, the listener will try to be clearer and you must try to listen more effectively.
4. Take a Moment to Respond
Be sure the other person is completely finished with their thoughts before beginning to speak. No one likes to be interrupted or talked over. When it is your time to speak, take a beat to reflect on the information they’ve shared so you can develop the most thoughtful response.
5. Practice Listening Meditation
Listening meditation is a form of meditation where you listen to the ambient sounds around you. You may notice the hum of the lights overhead… the sound of the traffic outside… the sound of a coworker breathing… and your computer clicking… and the birds…
Try to hear as many different sounds as you can. I find the exercise to be really fun and engaging, and the best part is, once you find that listening can be fun, you tend to want to do it much more.
As the old saying goes, God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we speak. The world would probably be a much better place if we all shut up and listened more.
Are we connected yet? I want to share even more communication tips that I know will completely transform your life!