Every day, you spend 80 percent of your waking hours engaged in communication. Of those hours engaged in communication, we spend 45 percent of our time listening. Unfortunately, most of us are terrible at listening. In order to make the time we spending listening more productive, we need to understand what we're doing wrong, why it matters, and how to fix it.
Very Bad Habits
Though we may think we're listening and paying attention, most of the time, our mind is engaged elsewhere. Everyone has their own poison when it comes to bad listening habits. Here are a couple of the different types of bad listeners:
1) The Accidental Fool- This person looks like they're listening, and probably thinks they are, but they're not absorbing everything they could be. They are furiously taking notes, struggling to hear in a noisy room, interrupting to ask questions, and, in the midst of all this activity, they are mitigating their ability to understand the message being sent.
2) The Defensive Listener- This person is too busy personalizing the message into an attack and coming up with a personal defense to actually hear what the other person has to say.
3) The Devil's Advocate- This individual spends their listening time looking for holes in the argumentative structure of the message. They aren't hearing what the other person has to say because they're wrapped up in how to tear it down.
4) The Faker- You'll never know this person isn't listening. They'll smile, nod, and even maintain eye contact, but they're a million miles away, thinking about something they feel is more important.
5) The Rude One- This person doesn't listen, and they don't care if you know it. They'll be messing with their phone, doodling or staring off absent-mindedlyâ€¦ making it very clear that they are uninterested in what you have to say.
Most of us exhibit some or all of these characteristics to some extent at one point or another, but these habits get us to a point where we only hear parts of the conversation, and retain next to nothing.
Why Listening Matters
Being an effective listener is an incredibly important part of being an effective communicator. Becoming a good listener reaps a couple of benefits.
First, effective listening allows you to better understand what is being said. If you understand what's actually being communicated, you can better respond to the individual or group of people you are communicating with. The end result? A more productive dialog.
Second, effective listening conveys respect, appreciation and admiration to the people you communicate with. It shows you care enough about what's being discussed, their point of view, and, really, them, to put in the effort it takes to fully understand what they're trying to say.
Active listening can make all the difference between productive communication and a waste of time. Unfortunately, the bad habits discussed here can not only limit your ability to access the benefits of active listening; they can also cause additional problems.
Poor listening and the low levels of comprehension that accompany it can result in unnecessary conflict. If you're personalizing a message and getting defensive, for example, the person you're communicating with may take your personalization of their message as an attack on their character, leading to a fight that never had to happen.
Poor listening can also result in costly mistakes. If a customer thinks you're listening because you're such a great faker, but you didn't retain the fact that they wanted blue flowers for their centerpieces instead of purple, you may find yourself in a position to either lose that customer and their future business, or have to spend money and time correcting you blunder. Either way, you lose.
Poor listening skills can destroy an interpersonal relationship, too. Continually disrespecting a relationship by, for instance, immersing yourself in a video game or text war during conversation may eventually wear on the strands of patience remaining in the relationship until they snap and you're left alone.
Improving Your Skills
Getting from the average person's listening skills to active listening isn't always easy. To start the improvements, try to consciously adopt the following habits.
1) Eliminate Distractions- Do your best to sit in a quiet, isolated area where you can give your full attention to the speaker.
2) Take Mental Notes- Writing while a person is speaking can distract you and the speaker. Instead, try to keep a running mental summary. This achieves two things. First, it forces you to pay close attention to what is being said. Second, because you are internally checking everything, it helps you to retain the information.
3) Rephrase- After the speaker finishes their train of thought, attempt to paraphrase what was said. This helps in a few ways. Initially, knowing that you will have to summarize what is being said will make you pay close attention. It also conveys to the speaker that you were listening, making them feel respected and appreciated. Finally, it allows the speaker to clarify anything you may have misunderstood.
4) Ask Questions- If something doesn't make sense to you, be sure to ask the speaker questions. This shows that you care about what is being discussed, and will help to clarify things you didn't really understand, helping you to better respond in the conversation. However, you should always save your questions for a break in the conversation. Do not interrupt the speaker, as this is rude and shifts the focus of the conversation onto you. Don't be a selfish communicator; wait your turn to speak.
While it may not be second nature to behave in this manner, adopting active listening skills such as these can help you get the most of 45 percent of your waking hours.