Shh… Listen!

“I never miss a good chance to shut up” – James Patterson, Along Came a Spider

How could it be good chance to shut up when we have so much to share, with good intentions, and want to be heard? And still… Studies have shown it and I’m pretty sure all of us have memories of times when we regretted we haven’t listened better. I know I do.

There are many views and perspectives on why listening is important. My reason for choosing to write about it is that we miss so much in our interactions by simply focusing on what we want, must, need to convey, by being so intentional in expressing ourselves, that we don’t hear what the others have to say. So, if we all do that, then nothing – as in no message and no communication content, gets transferred between people, nothing at all.

When nobody listens, that initial exchange of ideas with good intentions becomes a misunderstanding, a quarrel, a potential conflict. At home or at work. Because when we are not heard we feel not important or judged, even when we are not.

On the contrary, to be listened to is dazzling and fascinating. Remember a time when you spoke to a best friend who was there for you, listening to every word you had to say with empathy and care. You probably felt safe, secure and confident, haven’t you?

Imagine the same at work. Managers solve problems every day, under pressure, having little time and availability, listening only to the minimum necessary to make the next decision.  Yet there are huge benefits in paying more attention to what subordinates, peers, stakeholders have to say, such as good communication, positive interpersonal relations and employee engagement, as well as better influencing skills and higher achievements.

To make my case, I have found an ally in research studies. Here below is a list of facts about listening based on an article authored by Laura Janusik, Ph.D., Rockhurst University. It is a random selection, completed with an infographic from Get In Front Communications for those who really have no time at all, yet are interested in this topic.

“Effective listening is associated with school success, but not with any major personality dimensions (Bommelje, Houston, & Smither, 2003). 

In GermanyStudents in primary school are expected to listen for about 2/3 of classroom time (Imhof & Weinhard, 2004). 

Listening has been identified as one of the top skills employers seek in entry-level employees as well as those being promoted (AICPA, 2005). 

As of the late 1990’s, 64% of organizations provided some sort of listening training for their employees because they find that employees’ listening skills are ineffective for today’s work environment (What Employers Teach, 1997). 

Listening and nonverbal communication training significantly influences multicultural sensitivity (Timm & Schroeder, 2000). 

Physicians interrupt 69% of patient interviews within 18 seconds of the patient beginning to speak. As a result, in 77% of the interviews, the patient’s true reason for visiting was never elicited (Lee, 2000). 

Listening and listening-related abilities such as understanding, open-mindedness, and supportiveness constitute the single dimension upon which people make judgments about communication competence (Wienmann, 1977) 

Confident individuals listen to message content better than individuals who lack confidence. People with less confidence in themselves tend to be better listeners for the emotional meaning of the spoken message (Clark, 1989).

Listening is tied to effective leadership (Bechler & Johnson, 1995; Johnson & Bechler, 1998). 

Leaders give good attention to the speaker by looking the speaker in the eye.Leaders paraphrase the speaker to ensure understanding of the speaker’s message. Leaders are able to relate accurate messages to a third party, which shows that they remembered what the original speaker had said. Leaders listen with an open mind by not becoming emotional or defensive (Orick, 2002). 

The top three reported listening barriers for business practitioners were identified as 1) Environmental distractions such as phones ringing and other people talking, 2) Personal and internal distractions, such as hunger, headache, or preoccupation with something else, and 3) Rebuttal tendency – developing a counter argument while the speaker is still speaking (Watson & Smeltzer, 1984). 

In a spoken message, 55% of the meaning is translated non-verbally, 38% is indicated by the tone of voice, while only 7% is conveyed by the words used (Mehrabian, 1981). 

Spoken words only account for 30 -35% of the meaning. The rest is transmitted through nonverbal communication that only can be detected through visual and auditory listening (Birdwhistell, 1970).” 

Now please go back to the last two statements. It is important to understand that deep listening is not only listening to the words, but being aware of all that goes on with the person in front of us and the entire space in which we are.

Not limited to the tone of voice a person uses in a meeting, deep listening is about the impact that words and voice together have on the audience, the shift of energy in the room and the apparent consequences for the meeting outcome.

This global, active listening uses all our senses, as well as the emotional sensations. Allow me to propose an exercise in global listening, for those interested.

When in a public place – such as an airport, a shopping mall or a park, pay attention first to your own awareness of what is going on, then also to the others. What are the noises? Is there an almost unnoticed buzz in the room? What is it? What is going on with the people around you? How are they feeling? How does the energy shift as people come and go? Then try to do the same exercise when in a meeting at work. What does this new perception offer you? I wonder…

I hope you will find this exercise useful in many ways in your work as leader and in your interpersonal relations in general. Enjoy!


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