The Art of Listening

We all believe we are good listeners, yet research has shown that we retain barely 12% of the information that is shared in the course of an hour. What can be happening? Well, though we are physically present, our minds tend to wander after short intervals of listening. This is why seasoned communicators will juxtapose cartoons, jokes and other attention grabbing units alongside their main presentation material. Another reason why information is not completely absorbed is the presence of individual filters at work. Information is provided to us and we categorise it on the basis of past experience, ignore what seems irrelevant to us and generalise the remaining.


Little wonder then that almost 90% of all that was shared has fallen by the wayside. Apart from all these listening habits, we have thinking habits that further hamper our capacity to be with the speaker. Our mind might be mulling over the next meeting, a missed telephone call, a personal worry or just about any other pressing distractions that disallow concentration on the moment.


As a listener, there are some niceties or formalities you should follow that can make a communication exercise effective. First, sort out the distracters. Finish that call, delegate the pending task and manage the personal issue before you go into a communication session. Follow the words, tone and physical cues to get clued in on the subject under discussion. When the speaker is effusive and energetic, it is a lot easier to mentally enter the session. When you find your mind wandering, imagine a “cone of silence” around you and the speaker. Allow this cone to prevent outside information to enter and your mind from shutting off. Focus your attention on the speaker – what is the purpose of the exercise, is the suggestion of the speaker feasible, is the speaker biased or uninformed? What do the words and expressions convey? If you find your mind wandering to whether there is a dissonance that brings out the conflict between personal views on the subject versus the official or whether there is a hidden agenda? Watch out for these types of thoughts since you are attributing intent to the statements of the speaker. If there is incorrect information being presented, let the facts be known. If you have doubts, raise your queries appropriately to avoid mind reading and extreme communication distortion. Do not hesitate to clarify to ensure comprehension.


If you find that your suspicions or fears are being allayed, you can rest assured. If they are justified, you can take corrective action due to the information that has been shared and not on your personal views about future plans. When you clarify suspicions, you will realise that the communication effort has become far superior. Other participants in the effort start to come forward to support or rebut you. People who have similar doubts are able get their doubts cleared. Perspectives are shared and sharpened. There is a higher degree of understanding and the purpose of the communication is achieved. Rapport between participants in the exercise is built as understanding deepens.


Now, let us suppose that you are unable to block out the distractions that came along at the start of the communication. It is better not to straddle two activities on a parallel basis. It is better that you delay the exercise or excuse yourself from it. If you are delaying it, ensure that you provide an alternate date and time for the event. If you fail to do this, your action will be viewed as a sign of your disinterest in the exercise. Utilise a suitable method to delay, postpone or cancel the exercise taking care that you are understood clearly.


At BreakState, we help you to improve your listening habits and develop the capacity to stay with the event. Effective listening goes beyond passivity in a communication process and involves active mental involvement and sensory connection with the information being shared. Effective listening increases your sensitivity to listeners when you communicate as well.