Are you listening to what people are really saying? Or are you hearing?


The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.

Rachel Naomi Remen

Have you ever faced a situation when you are talking to someone, and they are working on their computer or scanning papers? Or when your child is talking to you and you are busy checking your phone or watching television? How much undivided attention are you giving or getting today? 5 % or 20 %?

In today’s digital, high-speed world, communication is more important then ever, with multiple channels of communication available to us. Yet we seem to have less effective communication and less time to really listen to each other.  Listening has become a rare gift and very precious one.

Attention means we are actually listening to the other person and not just hearing some noises or sounds. Listening means paying attention to not only what is being said (words), but also how it is said (body language). Effective listening helps build the connect with your team, clients or rather build string relationships, resolve conflicts and improve productivity. We need to make an effort to hear not only the words that other person is saying but, more importantly, how they are saying it and try to understand the complete message being sent.

Imagine that you have just walked through your team on the new product and you want them to start selling it right away, and all of them say “yes” but with a sulking face, and laid back body language, if your listening to them effectively, you will pick these signs and seek clarification, BUT if your are just hearing, then you ignore and may loose business as well as team effectiveness.

Or when the other person is talking, we are busy thinking of what to reply? Or we wander away to think of other things like “where am I going for dinner tonight? Will I be able to meet my targets? Will I get tickets for the movie over the weekend? What does my boss think about me? These thoughts distract us and we loose our attention or rather are not listening to the other person.

Adults spend an average of 70% of their time engaged in some sort of communication, of this an average of 45% is spent listening compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing. (Based on the research of: Adler, R., Rosenfeld, L. and Proctor, R. (2001).

To become an effective communicator or leader, we should build our listening skills. But what actually stops us from listening:

  • I know – Knowing the answer
  • I am trying to help you
  • Treating discussion as competition
  • Trying to influence or impress
  • Selective perception – Hearing what we wish to hear
  • Prejudices or biased by age, gender, race, religion, past experience
  • Wrong/unclarified assumptions – forming a judgment or evaluating before understanding
  • Interrupting
  • Fear of being criticized or being changed ourselves
  • Phone calls
  • Fidgeting
  • Boredom
  • Noise
  • Lack of planning
  • Lack of time or distance
  • Excessive talking
  • Information overload
  • Cultural barriers – Like a regional accent

There are many barriers to effective listening including the ones which you create yourself if you are not careful. Avoid inappropriate nonverbal cues, taking the spotlight, stereotyped reaction, pretending understanding, over reacting and under-reaching.

Read our next blog on tips to become effective communicator.


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