Hearing is not listening. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the two. Hearing is a passive action that occurs with or without your consent. Listening requires a conscious choice that demands your attention and concentration.
So if the person with whom you’re having a conversation replies, “I hear you”, chances are they are not listening. It’s not uncommon that our minds wander off on another topic when someone is sharing a thought or making a statement. But it results in miscommunication and often costly results.
We all want to be heard and understood. That’s a normal human characteristic. However, all too often we fail to understand the meaning of another person’s words. It’s not about everyone agreeing with what’s said, but rather a connection that makes you feel cared about, not discounted.
Fear – the enemy of healthy communication, combined with human insecurity are the largest obstacles that inhibit listening; especially when disagreements arise. Sadly, people are afraid of putting their own perspective aside for a moment because they’re convinced several things might happen:
- It might be perceived as agreement where none exists
- Something will reveal their own perspective was incomplete
- They might not get a chance to voice their own point of view
Businesses hire managers who must have good listening skills in order to do their job well. Managers spend at least 40% of their time listening and executives spend up to 80% of their work days listening to assess information, gain new insights and make decisions. And yet, these same leaders rank themselves as poor or below average listeners in self-reports and admit to doing little to improve.
What Type of Listener Are You?
According to Toastmasters, there are four basic levels of hearing and listening. Depending on the nature of a conversation, you might fall into one of these categories:
Non-listeners are completely preoccupied with their personal thoughts and although they hear the words, they do not listen to what is being said.
Passive listeners hear the words, but don’t fully absorb or understand them. Listeners pay attention to the speaker, but grasp only some of the core message.
Active listeners are totally focused on the speaker and understand the meaning of the words without distortion.
What’s the Solution?
A good listener refrains from interrupting a speaker to interject his own thoughts. A good listener keeps an open mind, refrains from judgment and makes direct eye contact. And do be aware of this common listening foible: a good listener will not glance up at the clock or look at his watch while the other person is speaking.
If you’re concerned about how effectively you, your team or your organization listens, you should be. Ineffective listening is a huge cost and may be one of the highest sources of risk you have. SIS International Research (NY) reports that 70% of small to mid-size businesses are losing money due to ineffective listening and communication. They estimate that a business with 100 employees, for example, spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communication which translates to an annual cost of over $500,000 each year.
On a less gloomy note, companies with more effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholder over the last 5 years compared to companies with less effective communicators. Bottom line: good listening skills pay long term dividends in more ways than one.