listening

Poor communications is one of the top time problems identified by workshop attendees. Much of this could be a simple lack of communications – a failure to share relevant information with those who need to know in order to perform their jobs effectively.

But much of it is a result of poor listening habits on the part of the listener. If you can honestly answer yes to the following five questions, you already qualify as a good listener: Otherwise, you might do well to practice the discipline of effective listening.

  1. In the midst of a busy and noisy plant or office, can you concentrate enough to understand everything that is said to you?
  1. When someone is presenting a lengthy proposal, can you keep your attention focused on the speaker’s ideas instead of letting it wander?
  1. Knowing that you can think about four times as fast as a speaker can talk, do you use the extra time to ponder what is being said?
  1. When listening, can you block out the speaker’s delivery and physical appearance?
  1. If a talk is boring and of little value, do you concentrate on listening for something of value to come?
  1. When the speaker makes disparaging remarks or the talk is boring, can you suppress your emo­tional response enough to hear what is being said?

The onus is on the listener to avoid pre-judging, daydreaming, interrupting, criticizing the speaker’s delivery, reacting to emotional words, or being distracted by the environment.

Effective listening is more difficult today than in the past – due to an increase in multitasking. Most people accept the fact that our brains cannot focus effectively on two things at the same time. Yet we are so busy, our heads swimming with thoughts of things yet to be done, we feel we can half-listen and still get by. Unfortunately this seldom works. The brain simply doesn’t function this way.

As psychotherapist Elaine Smookler suggests in the February, 2017 issue of Mindful magazine, “Listening is really just taking time to experience what we’re hearing at the moment.” Poor listening is a byproduct of poor time management. If something is important enough to listen to, it is important enough to listen to with your full attention.

As a Smookler mentions in her article Are you hearing me? Philosopher Martin Heidegger identified listening as a key to maintaining meaningful relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

Once you accept that listening is a priority, you can decide to fully focus on what the other person is saying. You can do this by periodically summarizing in your mind, in your own words, what is being said, and either confirming or questioning the point of view – all the while deciding what the person is trying to communicate beyond the words. In other words, occupy your mind with thoughts of the conversation so it won’t have any spare time to wander.

Effective listening can be learned. It is an active skill, and as such requires greater mental applica­tion.