Are you really listening? 3 ways to improve your listening skills

listening tipsDo you ever get the sense that you’re talking with someone and that person isn’t really listening? You’re probably correct about that. According to Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, most people aren’t really listening to you completely; they’re waiting for their turn to talk. He writes:

“Little wonder, then, that so few of us, in fact, do listen well. For many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next—and end up doing a mediocre job at both.”

Doesn’t that make you feel loved?

What Pink describes is your average listener. Even good listeners will momentarily lose their focus and have to regain it to follow the conversation. This comes down, in part, to how interested and/or focused you are in what your fellow converser is saying. You could be extremely interested, as when your boss is giving you a performance review; or slightly focused, as when someone is telling you how her toddler is assimilating to his daycare.

Regardless, everyone deserves to be listened to.

People who are poor listeners generally don’t care what people have to say, and this can have a negative effect on those who are talking. These are people who are hopeless. We know people like this who’d rather hear themselves talk than perhaps learn something new from others.

An article that appeared on Business Insider, 3 Ways Being A Bad Listener Hurts Your Career, says that bad listening can be bad for business, giving three reasons:

  1. Bad listening is dismissive and ultimately disengaging
  2. Bad listening leads to inferior information and decisions
  3. Bad listening is a waste of time

I’ll be the first to admit that I zone out on occasion, and people in my family will attest to my inability to maintain 100% listening capability. In fact, I am not the great listener people, with whom I interact, believe I am. At times, my listening span is about that of a fruit fly’s life expectancy.

Growing concerned about my inability to listen well prompted me to Google “Average Attention Span.” I was relieved to read that, according to www.StatisticBrain.com, the average human attention span in 2013 is eight (8) seconds—four (4) seconds less than in 2000, and four (4) seconds less than that of a goldfish. I think this duration is more like a burp that erupts from nowhere and then it’s back to normal.

A more accurate estimate of one’s ability to concentrate and maintain the proper duration of listening is enforced by the length of TED lectures which last no more than 18 minutes. That’s because people’s sustained attention span is approximately that long. After that, heads begin to nod and bodies begin to shift; maybe they become claustrophobic.

Even when I listened to Susan Cain talk about her stay at summer camp, where she looked forward to reading books, I felt myself drifting from the computer screen to tidy up my desk. This was Susan Cain! my introverted hero. Even she couldn’t hold my attention for 100% of her seminar.

My workshops are scheduled to last two hours. So now I’m thinking if I can’t listen with total concentration, those poor people must be itching to leave the room. I typically ask a lot of questions or suddenly raise my voice (shout) to keep their attention, which seems to do the trick. But now I’m thinking I need to ask even more questions and shout.

To become a better listener, I’ll now quote the methods suggested by the article and ways I’ll work on listening:

  1. Admit that you can be a better listener. I think I’ve fully admitted that, though I’m probably taking this listening thing too literally.
  2. Practice focusing on what others say. When colleagues come to my cubical I will now turn my chair and face them directly, rather than continue working on a project. I will even offer them a seat after I’ve cleared the paper from said chair.
  3. Acknowledge and respect what others have to say, rather than dismiss them with a short answer or a command. Yes, my daughter, I will listen attentively to your story about prom preparations.

When you come to terms about how poorly you’re listening to others, communication will be enriched. Pink has a point there; often times we impede progress by not hearing what others say. I want to be a better listener and give those their due respect, and I’d like others to hear what I have to say, as well.

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About Things Career Related
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 17 job search workshops at an urban career center. Jobseekers and staff look to him for advice on the job search. In addition, Bob has gained a reputation as a LinkedIn authority in the community. Bob’s greatest pleasure is helping people find rewarding careers in a competitive job market. Follow Bob on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/bob_mcintosh_1 and LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobmcintosh1

5 Responses to Are you really listening? 3 ways to improve your listening skills

  1. Bob, I would have never guessed 8 seconds as an average attention span. Amazing… and a little disconcerting.

    I have to admit that I take such intensive notes from client sessions that it’s almost an issue when I don’t have a keyboard, device, etc. nearby. People who listen under stressful situations, I’d guess, might retain very little unless they have a handout with reminders (such as the discharge instructions one receives after a hospital visit).

    Good to talk with you yesterday… hope I heard everything you said! ;-)

    Laura

  2. I find 8 seconds hard to believe. I think we all lose concentration momentarily when talking with others, but some people never seem to be listening and, like Pink says, waiting for their turn to talk. What I can’t stand are those who have no interest in what others say; just want to talk. The article says this can be damaging to people being ignored. Listening is an art and in high demand of employers. You’re a great listener, Laura.

  3. Libby Often says:

    Thanks, Bob, for posting this. As someone who is always looking to improve my teaching, I do think listening is really important — and clearly not just for my students! This article gives me quite a bit to think about.

  4. Pingback: Job-search advice for extraverts | Things Career Related

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