Tag Archives: listening skills

No One Ever Listened Themselves Out of a Job

listen2Following-up on our previous post about the power of questions, it only seemed right that we address the other ‘half’ of the probing equation: LISTENING.

In an earlier post we shared some facts about listening; and as you may know, most communication experts consider it to be the most important communication skill. Unfortunately, listening also tends to be the communication skill at which most of us are the least proficient.

A well-known quote from Calvin Coolidge exemplifying this perspective: “No man ever listened himself out of a job!”

If we’re able to enhance our probing skills and, as a result, ask better questions during sales calls or important meetings, it is important that we effectively listen to the answers to those questions.

Here are three best practices for improving our ability to listen:

  1. Prepare for sales calls or important meetings in writing. As noted in the previous post referenced above, is best to put an equal amount of focus on what we will “say” as well as what we will “ask” when preparing ourselves. However, one of the key benefits of preparing ourselves in this fashion (in writing) is that it eliminates the biggest obstacle to good listening – that being the distraction associated with thinking about what WE will say or ask next while others are speaking. If we’re distracted in this way, we cannot listen effectively.
  2. Set a desired TALK / LISTEN ratio as part of the pre-call or pre-meeting plan outlined in item #1. Most people agree that they communicate differently (and more effectively) when they have given themselves a target to “only talk 40%” or to “listen at least 70%” of the time during interactions with others.
  3. Take notes during sales calls and meetings – and to be clear, these notes are not the same as meeting minutes, as the intent is to capture highlights rather than everything that is said.  Wondering why? Well, note-taking helps us to maintain a stronger focus on what others are saying because it keeps our mind from wandering. It also turns our listening into a multi-sense activity (i.e., we listen with our ears, our sense of touch and our eyes).


The Most Important Communication Skill?

listeningWhat do you consider the most important communication skill?

It’s common for people to think of communication in terms of speaking, as in the “gift” of gab. But experts and researchers agree that listening is the most important communication skill. It’s also the most frequently used communication skill.

For example, a typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours communicating; but, of that time, we spend about 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking, and 45% listening.

Unfortunately, studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners.

Here are a few interesting facts about listening challenges, and three things that can improve listening effectiveness.

The first challenge lies in the fact that, on average, thought speed exceeds average speaking speed by three to four times! Thus, due to excess “thought” capacity, our minds tend to wander when we (try to) listen to other people speak.

In addition, there are minimal opportunities for training. Most people will acknowledge they have had much more formal training in other communication skills (writing, reading, speaking) and also find it more difficult to find programs that might help improve listening.

Numerous tests also confirm that we are inefficient listeners. Studies show that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood and retained only 50% of what was said. Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50% to a final level of 25% efficiency. In other words, we tend to comprehend and retain only one fourth of what we hear!

Finally, various forms of distraction inhibit our ability to listen effectively; and on top of this list of distractions is the tendency to shift our focus away from what others are saying because we are instead focusing on what we will say or ask next.

If you’d like to improve your listening skills, here are three ideas based on research conducted locally and at the University of Missouri:

  1. Prepare… Preparation prior to interacting with others is a good way to reduce distraction during communication. If we are less focused on what we will say or ask next (because we’ve planned ahead, in writing), we are able to place more focus on what others are saying.
  2. Ask better questions… Anticipating what others might say, making mental “summaries” while they are speaking and asking good questions to clarify what has been said will enhance our ability to listen and comprehend.
  3. Take notes… Note-taking can improve our listening in several ways. First it uses-up some of the excess thinking capacity described above. The act of writing or noting portions of what has been said also improves our memory of the material as it turns our listening into a “multi-sense” activity.  Finally, many people confuse listening with having a good memory… so if we take notes we can also refer to them later if (when!) we forget some of what was said.


Engaging the Imagination of Others

In music, the pauses matter just as much as the sound. As many visual artists will agree, white space in art is just as important as the drawing. For example, the white “circles” we see in the image below don’t really exist… but they certainly command our attention!

grid-circlesYet in business, we have a tendency to rush… to fill any empty space with noise — a new offer, more features, another conference call, another statement.

Maybe, if we instead find ways to respect the “white space” or the “quiet” when communicating with others, we could allow them to fill the void, adding their own interpretation and impact. Maybe, if we instead find a way to talk a little bit less and listen a little bit more, we could learn more about the issues at hand or about other people’s perspectives, needs, priorities, and so forth.

Maybe limiting information engages the imagination of others?


Critical Communication Skills?

comm2People have a tendency to think about communication in terms of speaking… as in, “So-and-so is a great communicator because they speak so well!”

However, when it comes to effective, reliable communication, we’ve found the following four skills to be the most critical:

Planning… or at the very least, a willingness to plan. Consider that if we take the time to plan our communication we will most likely identify numerous things we’d like to learn about others and hopefully craft good questions to help with this pursuit. In addition, we’ll more than likely identify several key things we’d like to share with our audience (whether an audience of one of 1 or 100) as well – thereby conducting a more thorough exchange.

Finally, the forethought should help us to use more specific language, thus helping our audience to more accurately interpret our message; and we might even anticipate exactly how our audience might interpret or misinterpret our message, and take preventative action!

Probing… Asking the best questions can make an enormous difference in the flow of communication and  on how others react to our questions – how they perceive the “reasons we’re asking certain questions.”

Consider that whether involved in a simple one-on-one discussion, conducting an interview, leading a meeting, coaching a team member, making a sales call or making an important telephone call, the person who is asking the questions tends to be the one in control.  Further, the quality of those questions and the way in which they are structured will have a significant impact on the quality of the answers we receive.

Listening… The experts say that listening is the most important communication skill, and the one we use the most out of all communication skills (45%). However, it is also the one at which we tend to be the least efficient. The biggest barriers to good listening are distractions:

  • Internal distractions such as thinking about what we will say or ask next rather than listening to others; or dealing with physical issues such as a headache or hunger.
  • External distractions such as loud background noises, poor telephone connections, or a distracted audience.
  • The tendency to rebut what others are saying… this, the studies show, can happen in varying degrees depending upon the nature of our conversation and the party or parties with whom we’re interacting. But once we start to anticipate how we will argue with whatever it is others are saying, we compromise our ability to listen

Proactive style… or more simply stated, “doing what we say we’ll do” as a result of conversations, meetings, instructions, customer requests, and so on.  Logically, it is far easier to accomplish this if we have accurately heard and interpreted (listened!) to those addressing us; and, as noted above, if we have asked good questions – including clarifying questions when we’re not clear on what others have said – the likelihood of reliable interpretation is greater, which will enable us to more effectively and accurately follow-through on things we’ve discussed.


A Culture of Listening?

We found a thought-provoking article that very nicely summarizes the importance of listening within any type of organization, and how the simple act of listening enhances the impact of good leadership!

The concept of building a “culture of listening” is not a commonly-used phrase, but it sure “sounds good!”

Read the full article… | Comment…