Learning to Listen - The Key to Effective Communication.
By Dr Rick Johnson.
Wednesday, 7th January 2009
Personally, I believe that the biggest weakness most of us face as business people, as leaders and as individuals is our inability to listen effectively. Even though the majority of us have ears that test in the excellent category for hearing, most of us have not developed the necessary skills or aural skills as the academics call it to be used effectively to listen well.
Many experts have tested listening skills through numerous activities focused on how well people remember the information presented. This has been tested in different environments, different time frame and different types of presentations and communications. The consolidation of results from this myriad of research convinces me that people have very short memory spans.

Results have proven that we only remember on average about 50% of the information presented immediately after the presentation. The more time that passes, the less we remember. Research at Florida State University suggests that after 60 days have passed we will only remember a maximum of 25% of the information presented. In fact, the predominant amount of that memory loss occurs within the first eight hours after listening to the information.

What Can We Do?
Many people may believe that a person's listening ability is directly related to their intellectual ability; smart people listen better. Personally I believe this is a myth. Of course someone with exceptional intelligence may be able to retain more information than someone with a very low IQ. But….. For most of us that have average to above average intelligence, our listening abilities are directly related to certain skills that are acquired through experience and training. Keep in mind, being alert, learning to read and being present alone does not automatically increase our listening abilities.
Listening is a Unique Activity
Listening is different from reading. Listening is about communication, understanding and comprehension. I have known people who are excellent readers that can capture your attention just by the way they form the words that flow through their lips and yet if you ask them to explain exactly what the information means they fall short of expectations. We must be aware of the factors that affect our listening abilities. These factors include:

  • Concentrating on the material at hand – remember we think at a much faster pace than we talk. (average talk = 125 words per minute) We must be careful not to get ahead of ourselves. Since our thoughts are faster we can often get distracted or we begin to sandwich in personal thoughts that may or may not be relevant to the information presented. We also may often wander off with a different line of thought and then hurry back to the listening mode when we feel something is relevant.
  • Interest which creates a motivation to learn - Additionally this has a tendency to create opportunity for our wandering thoughts to wander in the direction of anticipating what the presenter is leading up to. This keeps us focused on the material at hand improving the quality of our listening.
  • Weighing the evidence - Utilizing our listening and rationalization skills we can focus on weighing the facts presented to determine the validity of the information presented. This also keeps us focused on the material presented thus improving our listening ability.
  • Mentally summarizing the points made by actually taking notes reinforces the listening process. Note taking is an essential ingredient to improving our listening abilities. Research has proven that the physical act of writing down information improves our ability to remember and comprehend the information.
Effective Listening Should Spur Creativity and New Ideas
A key technique you can use to improve your listening skills is simply looking for new ideas to utilize in your business or personal life. Ask yourself this question repeatedly throughout the listening process.

"How can I apply this (fact – theory – information) to my specific business or challenge?"
Raise your expectations when it comes to what you expect to do with the information that is being presented. Listening to a "motivational speaker" may make you feel good but if you don't come away with some actionable items to work on in your personal environment it is simply a waste of time.
Memorizing is not Effective Listening
You may take pride in getting all the facts and memorizing them considering yourself a good listener. Getting all the facts seems logical to effective listening. However, memorizing all the facts presented in any presentation is often a virtual impossibility for most people. Often we miss critical pieces of information that can often lead to more harm than good. To be an effective listener we must strive to understand the ideas that are being presented.

That is why it is much more effective to ask a listener what he intends to do with the information you presented instead of simply asking them if they understand. Grasping the idea behind the information being presented is a key skill that must be developed to become an effective listener. If you understand the idea behind the material presented, the facts often follow naturally.
Clean the Emotional Filter
Our listening ability is definitely affected by our emotions and the environment we grew up in. Realistically we often tune out when information threatens a preconceived notion, a belief or when we hear something that strikes a painful emotion from our past. We simply turn off our listening skill when what is being said is something we just don't want to hear. Adversely, we really focus and turn up our listen skill when we hear something that we especially want to hear. Unfortunately, this emotional trait is often taken advantage of by scam artists and "Free Lunch Schemes" you often find on the internet. We have a tendency to believe anything whether it's fact or fiction.
So….. It is clear that our emotions can act as listening filters. They can both shut out information or they can enhance it. In fact, we must be careful when we begin to hear something that strikes a positive emotion to avoid hearing only what we want to hear. It is imperative that we clear our minds when listening to prevent our inner emotions from distorting the information being presented both positively or negatively. That means we should withhold evaluation of the information presented until the presentation is complete and we can rationalize our thought process without emotional influence. I'll end this article with the following tips that may help improve the listening skills in your organization.
Tips to Improve Listening Skills

  • Actually conduct a learning session or seminar devoted to improving listening skills. There are many DVD's and exercises available that can be used to support this learning activity. Mini case studies are also an excellent tool used a breakout session with open discussion.
  • Study communication skills as they are an integral part of effective listening.
  • Hire a consultant to help your group improve listening and communication skills.
  • Create a definitions file for industry terms, acronyms and key phrases specific to your business and planning process.
  • Make sure you have a well defined and documented orientation program for new employees. Create a system to have all employees participate at various times with new employee indoctrination. The most effective way to have someone learn something is to have them teach it.
  • Create a session of "Team Role" playing that addresses specific listening challenges.
  • Develop a listening critique that can be employed after a specific meeting or session that has been recorded. Have the group actually make suggestions for improvements and identify potential miscommunications as a result of ineffective listening.
Check out Rick's new CD series and workbook "Unlocking the Secrets to Amazing Sales" @ www.ceostrategist.com/resources-store/unlocking-the-secrets-to-amazing-sales-incredible-profits.html this introduces you to Tier Level Selling ™. It is a must addition for your sales training initiatives. Order today and get a bonus copy of Rick's book "Turning Lone Wolves into Lead Wolves ----56 ideas to maximize sales.
www.ceostrategist.com – Sign up to receive "The Howl" a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues. – Straight talk about today's issues. Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com.
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