Sunday, August 22, 2010


Ineffective listening is one of the most frequent causes of misunderstandings, mistakes, jobs that need to be redone, and lost sales and customers. The consequences of poor listening are lower employee productivity, missed sales, unhappy customers, and billions of dollars of increased costs and lost profits. Poor listening is a factor in low employee morale and increased turnover because employees do not feel their managers listen to their needs, suggestions, or complaints. And finally, people view poor listeners as boorish, self-centered, disinterested, preoccupied, and socially unacceptable.

So, with all these negative consequences, why don’t we listen more effectively ? Here are five basic reasons:

It is more than just keeping quiet. An active listener registers increased blood pressure, a higher pulse rate, and more perspiration. It means concentrating on the other person rather than on yourself. As a result, a lot of people just don’t do it.

In today’s society there is enormous competition for our attention from advertisements, radio, TV, movies, reading material, and more. With all this incoming stimuli, we have learned to screen out information that we deem irrelevant. Sometimes we also screen out things that are important to us

We think we know what someone is going to say, and we want to act on his words. We jump in and interrupt, not taking the time that is required to hear people out.

The difference between speech, speed and thought speed creates a listening gap. The average person speaks at about 135-175 words a minute, but can listen to 400-500 words a minute. That difference between listening speed and speaking speed is time spent jumping to conclusions, daydreaming, planning a reply, or mentally arguing with the speaker. At least that is how poor listeners spend with their time.

We do more listening than speaking, reading, or writing, yet we receive almost no formal education in listening. Many people assume they are good listners; few actually are. The average employee spends about three-quarters of each working day in verbal communications. Nearly half of that is spent on listening. Incredibly, on the average, the typical employee’s listening effectiveness is only 25 percent

The normal, untrained listener is likely to understand and retain only about 50 percent of a conversation, and this relatively poor percentage drops to an even less impressive 25 percent retention rate forty eight hours later. This means that recall of a particular conversation that took place more than a couple of days ago will always be incomplete and usually inaccurate. No wonder people can seldom agree about what has been discussed.

Managers who are poor listeners miss numerous opportunities. They miss current or emerging problems. They often miss the essence of the message being sent. This leads them to propose solutions that are faulty or inappropriate. Often they address the wrong problem altogether. Lack of listening by the manager crates tension and distrust in the employee. A cycle is created if the manager does not listen, the employee stops listening. This downward spiral creates the potential for organizational disaster.

It is hard to realize that an activity as simple as listening could have such a powerful impact on an organization. Here is a recap of some of the bottomline benefits of better listening.

When you listen to somebody, it makes them feel good about you, which leads to increased trust and credibility and an increased willingness toward cooperation. In organizations, this generally means a reduction in turn-over and more of a commitment to the organisation’s goals

Fewer errors result in lower costs, better products and services and higher profits

Better listening improves the transfer of information, improves team work, builds morale, and leads to higher productivity


People typically listen at one of four basic levels of attentiveness. Each category requires a particular depth of concentration and sensitivity on the part of the listener. These levels are not distinct lines of difference but general categories into which people fall. Depending on the situation or circumstance in which listeners find themselves, these categories may even overlap or interchange. As you move from the first, to the second, to the third, to the fourth level, your potential for understanding, trust and effective communication increases

At this first level, the listener does not hear the speaker at all. In fact, no effort is made to hear what the other person is saying. The non listener is recognized by her blank stare and nervous mannerisms and gestures. Sometimes she fakes attention while thinking about unrelated matters.


The marginal listener hears the sounds and words but not the meaning and intent. She stays on the surface of the argument or problem, never risking going deeper. She is too busy preparing what she wants to say next to listen to what is being said to her now. The marginal listener is easily distracted by her own thinking and by outside occurrences.

Marginal listening is hazardous because there is enormous room for misunderstanding since the listener is only superficially concentrating on what is being said. In the workplace, it is a source of low morale, misunderstandings, errors and problems

More concentration and attention are required at this level. The evaluative listener is actively trying to hear what the speaker is saying but is not making an effort to understand the speaker’s intent. She tends to be a logical listener, more concerned about content than feelings. She tends to remain emotionally detached from the conversation

The evaluative listener believes that she understands the speaker, but the speaker does not feel understood. This phenomenon is a common by product of the tremendous speed discrepancy at which a human can listen and think. As discussed at which a human can listen and think. As discussed earlier, while a person speaks at an average rate of 120 to 160 words per minute, the mind is capable of listening and thinking at a rate up to four times that speed. The evaluative listener is using that time gap to think about his response or to notice the soup stain on the speaker’s tie or to count the number of times the speaker says “you know”. Because this listening speed gap is so natural to the way our minds work, this is the level of listening that people employ in most everyday conversations. It is truly difficult habit to break

This is unquestionable the most comprehensive and potentially, the most powerful level of listening. It is also the most demanding and tiring because it requires the deepest level of concentration, attention and mental, as well as emotional, processing effort.

The active listener refrains from coming to judgment about the speaker’s message, instead focusing on understanding her point of view. Attention is concentrated on the thoughts and feelings of the other person as well as the spoken word. To listen in this manner requires our initial suspension of our own thought and feelings in order to give attention solely to the message and intent of the speaker. It means figuratively – “putting yourself into someone else’s shoes”. It also requires that the listener send verbal and nonverbal feedback to the speaker indicating that what is being said is really being absorbed.



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