The Power of Communication
Back in 2013, Get in Front Communications produced an infographic based on feedback from subscribers to the Harvard Business Review. They found that communication was “the most important factor in making an executive promotable,” ranking it greater than ambition, education and even hard work.
And it’s not just business where communication comes in handy, researcher Elizabeth Babin (A health expert at Cleveland State University) conducted a study of 207 people and found that good verbal and non-verbal communication both before and during sex directly correlated with increased sexual satisfaction!
Then there’s lifestyle website YourTango.com, which recently interviewed one hundred mental health professionals and discovered that communication problems were the primary factor in 65% of divorces.
Success or failure, it seems, hangs on our ability to communicate.
Coming to Your Senses, Why Listening in Particular?
Before we carry on though, ‘communication’ is a broad term encompassing a variety of activities such as writing, reading, speaking and listening. At first look you might assume that our time was spread equally between these activities, but you would be wrong. A 2006 study by Janusik and Wolvin found that listening related activities, including phone, television and radio, took up approximately 50% of our daily time.
With this 50% figure in mind it should come as less of a surprise that more than 35 separate business studies indicate listening as one of the top skills needed for success in business.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything.So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.
~ Larry King
Skillsyouneed.com calls listening ‘the skill that underpins all positive human relations,’ and they’ve hit the nail on the head. Listening is not just the ability to hear noises around you, but rather the ability to understand, to empathise, to clarify and to perceive a situation.
Without good listening communication breaks down, and without communication most relationships, both business and personal, follow suit.
The Big Issue
Want to know something worrying though? According to statistics compiled by the International Listening Association (listen.org) most of us are distracted, forgetful or pre-occupied for about 75% of the time that we should be listening.
Even worse, immediately after we listen to someone we typically only remember around 50% of what they told us. This becomes even more problematic in the long term, where it’s estimated that we only remember about 20% of what we heard.
The fundamental reality of human cognisance is that we listen to people at a rate of 125 – 250 words per minute, whereas we think at around 1000-3000 words per minute. So for the vast majority of us, without deliberate training and practice, our internal monologue will greatly outweigh our ability to listen and pay attention.
Now, we know from the statistics above that being a good listener can improve your sex life, increase your chances of promotion, solidify your marriage and help you to succeed in the world of business. And yet the overwhelming majority of us lack basic listening skills. Something’s got to give.
Solving the Problem – 5 Action Steps
So, bearing in mind that less than 2% of people have had any kind of formal education or training on how to listen, what can you personally do to improve your listening skills? Below you’ll find a list of 5 action steps that you can start taking immediately. So pay attention, read all the way until the end and get ready to reap the personal and career benefits.
#1 – Be ‘In The Moment’
This might sound like some weird, esoteric notion but there’s a huge amount to be said for actually being ‘in the moment.’ All too often when we’re doing one thing our mind is off thinking about something else. When we’re listening to someone we shouldn’t be thinking of what we’re going to say next and we shouldn’t be thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner.
Another way to express this is to simply say ‘focus.’ Put actual effort into staying focused only on what is happening directly in front of you. Not only will this improve your ability to listen and understand, but it will positively affect your body language, facial expressions and other non-verbal aspects of communication.
#2 – Understand First, Respond Later
Guy Harris, the Chief Relationship Officer with Principle Driven Consulting, uses a great analogy to explain how you should think of conversations. He says that instead of seeing them as a tennis match, where two contestants hit ideas back and forth, we should look at conversations as a baseball game. In the second example the conversation involves a pitcher (speaker) and the catcher (listener, aka You) who only throws the ball back after fully grasping the ball (understanding the topic)
With this method not only do you massively reduce the chance of misunderstandings, but you give the other person a time to feel listened to and appreciated. This is how strong friendships and relationships are built.
#3 – Ask Questions
Since tip number two was all about building understanding, you’ll want to learn how to use questions to build this even further.
Asking questions is a great way for you to clarify information; it’s also a brilliant way of letting the person you’re listening to know that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying. Ideally you should try to ask questions specific to the conversation topic, but if you’re struggling you can always use a simple clarification line such as:
“So what you’re saying is…”
Even if you have very little or no knowledge of the subject matter you can still very much take part in the conversation simply by listening with focus (tip number one) and repeating back certain parts of what you hear as clarification questions. In other words you get to seem intelligent AND learn stuff at the same time!
#4 – Learn to Shut Up and Let Them Finish
Have you ever watched one of those infuriating political debates where all the supposedly great ‘leaders’ do nothing but talk over each other. If you’re anything like me you get about ten minutes in before giving up out of sheer frustration. You want to be the opposite of this.
That means even if you disagree with what the speaker is saying you still need to be quiet and wait until they’re finished saying it. Stay focused (tip 1) understand what they’re saying (tip 2) and ask questions and clarifications (tip 3.) Often times by following these three simple tips you’ll find that the speaker meant a completely different thing to what you originally thought they were trying to convey.
As the saying goes, “when your mouth is open your ears are closed.”
#5 – Maintain the Right Mind-Set
Tips 1 to 4 are fairly practical, they give you ideas on how to act and what to say during a conversation to improve your listening and interaction as a whole. However, they won’t mean anything if it’s obvious that you’re coming from a place of arrogance, envy or self-interest. You need to start developing the right mind-set to approach conversations with.
You should aim to be going into conversations open-minded and willing to learn. You should try to maintain a desire for constant self-improvement and growth as a person. With this attitude you’ll be able to see conversations as learning opportunities and listening as a tool that benefits both yourself and others.
Eagerness, energy and a desire to learn WILL be visible in your body language and your general attitude. Whether consciously or unconsciously the people that you interact with will pick up on the emotions and attitude that you bring to a conversation, and that will affect how much they open up to you; if you really want to learn how to listen, you’ve also got to help others feel comfortable to speak.
Wrapping all this up
There you have it, five simple action steps that you can start taking right now to improve your listening skills and reap the wider benefits in your work and personal life.
Of course no-one is saying that you have to do any of these things, but if you could improve your work life, home life and sex life without it costing you a penny, what have you got to lose for trying?
Get out there and go get listening.
Written by Ben Larkey.
Can you think of any other reasons why effective listening skills are so important? If so, please let us know at email@example.com