I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway
I struggle to listen well. My mind often wanders when I’m listening to someone speak. Have you ever finished a conversation and not remembered a thing you talked about?
On average we spend 60 percent of our days listening to others, but retain only 25 percent of what we hear. This is a real problem for me. I am wasting all those opportunities to learn from and connect with the people I choose to hear.
I may find much more, but here are a few reasons why I have made it my intention to hear people out.
Listening helps us learn
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. – Stephen Covey
Roughly, 85 percent of what we know we have learned through listening. That number surprised me until I thought about all the lectures, mentors, podcasts and documentaries I’ve heard. And, to think, I only remember 25 percent of it all.
Listening with the intent to understand is a humbling position. We want to believe we already know what our neighbor knows. Sometimes we treat life like a game of Jeopardy; we jump to answer the questions we know while trying to avoid the questions we don’t. As Stephen Covey puts it, “they listen with the intent to reply.”
Instead of saying “I know,” let’s choose to listen out of humble curiosity.
Listening helps us connect
Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others talk. – John Steinbeck
We all have a great hunger to be heard and understood. We don’t just want people to hear our words, but our hopes, passions, doubts, and conflicts that lie beneath the surface of the conversation. Strangely enough, the most accurate method to read these emotions is listening to someone talk, not observing.
There is no better way to connect with someone than to simply listen. On the contrary, I am often guilty of thinking I need to respond with my advice or opinion. I’ve learned over repeatedly failing in conversations, our attentiveness demonstrates respect, interest, and a willingness to connect. The International Listening Association states “we find that the best listener enables us to listen to ourselves.”
Still, sometimes listening is a thankless act. You can hear someone out, and they may not even know. A good listener does not demand recognition for their attentiveness. Think of listening as a gift to the person being heard.
Listening helps us focus
“Your ears are always on — you have no ear lids. They work even when you sleep.” – Julian Treasure
Our ears are always at work. Now more than ever, they are continually bombarded by the radio, tv, and whatever is playing on our headphones. It all becomes a constant white noise in the background of our lives. I have even found difficulty hearing one thought at a time.
Sixteen years of school taught me how to appear attentive – eye contact, head nodding, periodic agreements – while not genuinely listening. Proper listening demands patience, concentration, and focus.
We speak at 150 words per minute, but we think closer to 500 words per minute. Which is why we can daydream while having a conversation – sort of. Learning to listen will force us to focus on the discussion at hand. The increased focus may seem trivial, but I promise it is a superpower.
Let’s listen better
No matter how long you’ve known someone, there are always more layers to unpack and stories to hear. We can all benefit from learning to listen a little better. Here are three quick tips to help you get started:
- Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes/no.
- Set aside your agenda and let someone else lead the conversation.
- If you can’t listen now, be honest and schedule a time to speak later.