Are We Communicating More and Listening Less?

Post written by Warren. Follow him on Twitter.

Are you hearing or listening?

Are you hearing or listening?

It’s a well-recognized fact that good communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, both personal and professional.

These days there are more ways to communicate than at any other time in history, from phones to instant messaging to e-mail to Internet posts and blogging.  Despite the increased amount of communication that’s taking place around us, most people still have problems communicating on a person-to-person level.  This is evidenced by the fact that communication is still one of the most frequently mentioned issues in marriages, families, between friends and on the job.

A lot of attention is given to improving speaking abilities, but the importance of having effective listening skills is often overlooked.  Effective listening involves more than just hearing what’s being said – it means that the speaker’s words are being absorbed and that we’re focused on discovering the underlying meaning of the message.

Most people don’t think they have a problem with their listening skills.  After all, they take in the sounds around them.  The error here is mistaking hearing for listening. Anyone with good hearing can take in sounds.  Good listening refers to how well we extract meaning from sound.  Successful communication requires the transfer of meaning.  Not being an effective listener can block this transfer.

Barriers to Effective Listening

Effective listening involves grasping what a speaker is trying to communicate.  Several listening habits can get in the way of effective listening, and most of us are guilty of these habits at one time or another.

  • Interrupting to finish a sentence or disagree. Cutting off a speaker to finish their sentence or to disagree with them shows a lack of respect.  Interrupting to disagree is also a sign of a closed mind, as if nothing the speaker can say will make a difference in our opinion.  Although it may be difficult to let someone speak until they’re finished, it’s a good way to build and maintain healthy relationships.
  • Interrupting to offer a solution. Unless the speaker has asked for a solution to a problem, it’s better just to listen.  Even if the speaker is complaining, it may just be venting and a solution isn’t sought.  Listening in this case is a form of moral support.  If you really want to give advice, wait until the speaker is done talking or bring it up at a different time.
  • Trying to impress the speaker. When someone is telling a story, it can be annoying if the listener then tries to “top it.”  This shows an ulterior motive of trying to impress rather than just listening.  Sometimes the only way to break this habit is to develop an awareness of the problem and monitor yourself.  Decide that you don’t always need to show that you have a better story, and focus instead on what the speaker is saying.

These are just a few examples of how poor listening habits can hamper personal communication.  Other poor listening habits that interfere with our ability to communicate include becoming distracted, tuning out, or letting your facial expressions and body language express negativity when someone else is speaking.

Becoming an Effective Listener

Overcoming bad habits and learning to listen effectively requires focus and practice.  We’re not born with the ability to listen effectively, but we can learn this skill.  One of the first challenges to meet is changing your attitude about listening.  Unless you have a desire to listen to others and to get to know them better by listening to what they have to say, you won’t be an effective listener.  When someone engages you in conversation, decide that you want to listen and then look and act interested.

Here are 10 additional tips for effective listening:

  • Eye Contact. Look directly at the speaker and make eye contact.  Listen with your eyes as well as your ears and watch for nonverbal signals about the speaker’s state of mind.
  • Nonverbal Communication. Be aware of your own nonverbal communication.  What mood are you conveying while the speaker is talking?  Do you convey a feeling of being open, or are you expressing boredom or disapproval?
  • Gestures. Use gestures to show that you’re interested in what the speaker is saying.  Lean forward, nod or smile to show you’re absorbed in the speaker’s message.  Make appropriate verbal responses without interrupting.
  • Cut External Distractions. If the speaker wants your full attention, then minimize distractions.  Turn off the TV, look away from the computer and put away the cell phone — really focus in on listening.
  • Cut Internal Distractions. Also minimize internal distractions.  Don’t allow an interior monologue to take your attention away from the speaker’s message.
  • Open Your Mind. Keep an open mind while the speaker is talking.  Try to reserve judgment until you’ve heard everything.
  • Change Your Perspective. Try to see things from the speaker’s point of view.  Having empathy for other people is an important way to connect with them.
  • Stop Competing. Conversation doesn’t have to be competitive.  Be aware of times when you’re dominating the conversation or turning it into a game of one-upsmanship.
  • Hold Back on Advice. In most cases, it’s best not to offer advice unless it’s asked for.  Sometimes people just need to vent and they’ll appreciate you all the more for listening.
  • Sprinkle Comments. When the speaker is done talking, make a comment or ask a question that shows you were listening.  If you immediately launch into another subject, they’ll doubt that you understood or cared about what they were trying to communicate.

  • Studies have shown that about 85% of our knowledge is obtained by listening. This means that effective listening is one of the most important life skills that you can learn.  It’s also one of the most important relationship skills.  With effective listening, you can become closer to people, understand their feelings and needs, and have an important tool for resolving conflict.  As you become a more effective listener, you’ll find yourself becoming more connected to others.  Isn’t that what communication is all about?

    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   -Maya Angelou-

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    What makes communication flow for you?

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    Posted on September 28, 2009

    Happy Comments

    20 Responses to “Are We Communicating More and Listening Less?”
    1. Great post! I’m a pretty terrible listener and I think, yes, we’re generally communicating more but listening less. I absolutely need to work on my listening skills so thanks for writing this!
      .-= Positively Present´s last blog ..the filmstrip: a new way to look at presence =-.

    2. Tristan Lee says:

      Hey Dayne. I liked your tips on barrires to effective listening. I agree that people who interrupt to finish a sentence, offer a solution, or try impress the speaker are more people who enjoy listening to their own voice, rather than listening to other people’s voices.

      By the way, I really like that quote you put there by Maya Angelou!
      .-= Tristan Lee´s last blog ..A New Design =-.

      • Hey there Tristan, welcome back! It is amazing the number of people out there that are so self-centered on their opinion or voice when “trying” to listen to others.

        Yes, I love the quote as well and I thought it would be perfect for this post!

        Cheers to you!
        Dayne

    3. I’ll admit, improving my communication has been a constant struggle for me to improve. These are some great tips. This qutoe has really stuck with me and made a huge difference, in how I approached communication.

      “Don’t speak unless you can improve upon the silence.”-Ghandi
      .-= Justin- AlittleBetter.net´s last blog ..How to Choose and Attract Friends Wisely =-.

    4. Andy says:

      Hi Dayne,

      I thought I was a conscious listener but realised that I often slip into “what’s in it for me” so I don’t really hear what is being said with out forming an immediate opinion. Thanks for the post, great reminder to be still and present when listening.

      Andy
      .-= Andy´s last blog ..How to reprimand, get what you want & everyone feels good.. =-.

      • Hey there Andy! Yes, it is easy to get into the “what’s in it for me” mentality during conversations. I know I can be guilty of that at times as well. But like you said, becoming present and still is key.

        Thanks again Andy!
        Dayne

    5. Hi Dayne,
      Thanks for this useful summary of helping us to improve our listening. I like the idea by using the fact that we have two ears and only one mouth. Therefore, I try to listen twice as much as I speak. :)
      .-= Gordie Rogers – Lifestyle Design 4U´s last blog ..Review: Free Ebook- Breaking Free. =-.

    6. David Damron says:

      STOP COMPETING AND STOP INTERRUPTING!!!!

      Those are huge changes I need to make and have started changing. I always try to one-up which is a horrible characteristic. I am horrible about correcting others. The whole conversation turns from ‘topic’ to ‘editing’.

      Great advice Dayne. All I can promise is continued growth. Your advice will definitely help with that.

      Dave
      LifeExcursion
      .-= David Damron´s last blog ..A Week on $20 =-.

      • Hey there David, how are you doing these days? Yes, it is amazing how much we tend to let our ego and competition come into play during conversations. I know I have that problem of correcting at times (I hate that I do that), but I’m working on being patient and just listening.

        Thanks again for commenting David!

        Dayne

    7. alternaview says:

      You consistently hit all the good and important topics that are so easy to overlook and not focus on. You would think that listening is one of those things that comes naturally and just about anyone can do it, however, as you pointed out, there are effective ways of listening that really do take discipline and focus. The great thing I have noticed is that the better you are at listening, the more you get out of every experience and encounter with someone. I came across a theory that explained that everyone you interact with throughout the day has either something important to tell you or there is an important takeaway message. The key though is that you have to be really listening in order to determine exactly what you are supposed to be taking away from every encounter. I always try and approach conversations this way and when I focus on the importance of really listening so that I don’t miss anything, I have found I am better at being truly engaged in what someone else is saying. To me, listening is yet another important ability to develop that allows you to really capture experiences you may otherwise overlook or miss out on. Thanks for bringing this top of mind.
      .-= alternaview´s last blog ..Why Be Nice? =-.

      • Hey Alternaview, thanks for the fantastic comment! I have to agree with you, the more you actually listen, the more the actual experience comes to life. I think the reason why is because that voice in our mind gets shut down and we become present, and being mindful always brings life (and conversation) alive.

        Thanks again!
        Dayne :)

    8. Walter says:

      All what you have elaborated here are extremely important, yet many neglect. I guess when it comes to talking, we like more of hearing our self than the other. As always, the enemy is our ego. Unless we are aware of our attitudes towards communication we can never be an effective listener.

      Sometimes silence is more eloquent than speech. :-)
      .-= Walter´s last blog ..Why are we having problems with problem? =-.

    9. Hi Dayne. This is surely a powerful post, because listening is something of a lost Art in today’s world. If I may, I’d like to add something about listening for your audience. I’ll start with a question. Would you bother listening to yourself? You would? Alright so let’s make up a little story. Imagine for a moment that your spouse, partner, friends or acquaintences were odd images in an Alice-in-Wonderland mirror. They’re strange, distorted reflections of YOU. You haven’t been paying attention to what they’re saying though. Why? Well….you didn’t think they had anything of value to say. You didn’t think THEIR stories were relevant to YOUR life. But suddenly you realize their lives and yours are really one and the same. Suddenly you see you and they are parts of one whole. Now what? Now you listen to every single soul out there. How come? You know for sure you can learn something to apply to your own life. End of little story. But what does it have to do with you and I? As it turns out, it’s a true story. Listening to what anyone has to say about anything can help each of us with our lives……because we’re all different parts of One Life. We’re all diverse facets of one whole. If this sounds stranger than fiction to you…..that’s because it’s the truth. Best wishes Dayne. John Duffield
      .-= John Duffield´s last blog ..Heartshots For the Law of Attraction =-.

      • Hey there John, welcome to this blog and thank you for commenting!

        Ahh, you make an EXCELLENT point John. In everyone’s story, there is actually a bit of us in it and things we can learn. I love that! In many ways, they mirror us in various manners. All of what you said does not sound strange to me at all, it makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing!

        Feel free to stop by again John!

        Cheers,
        Dayne

    10. Kaushik says:

      Yup, great article, we are listening less and less. A little easy trick is to keep attention in the inner body while listening, and it opens us up.

      thanks!
      .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Floating… =-.

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