We are pretty horrible listeners.
We don’t have to dig far in the research or ask too many people about other people’s listening to prove that opening statement to be true.
And if I had started off by saying this like most people say it to me, then I’d have said, “Other people are pretty horrible listeners.” We are quick to call out others on this skill, while saying that we ourselves are pretty good listeners mostly. I don’t think you have to be a math genius to see that the numbers just won’t work out on that. If we are complaining that other people aren’t good listeners, then some of us have to be those “other people”!
PROOF ON LISTENING
In his 1950’s book Are You Listening?, Ralph Nichols showed that young children are actually really good at the most important part of listening, giving full attention. (If you’re a parent, then you might be questioning that fact. And I can totally relate. But a deep consideration of that finding tells me that Nichols is right.) Young children are interested in figuring things out and knowing things that they don’t know. They are attentive to what people are saying around them and can sometimes seem to listen when you think that they were too preoccupied to be listening.
Nichols’ study on k-12 students showed that first graders did the best at recall with a 90% recall accuracy; middle schoolers came in second at 45%, and high schoolers did the worst at only 28%. And not much has changed since the 1950’s. Research today shows that adults have an efficiency rate of about 25%. Pretty lackluster results.
WHY THE POOR LISTENING
Why are we such poor listeners? Here are just a few reasons.
- We process audio at a rate of about 500 wpm, but we speak at a rate of about 125 wpm. That leaves an awful lot of spare brain power.
- We create mental blocks by pre-judging, judging, or focusing on what we don’t like.
- We think we can multi-task.
- We assume that listening is a natural skill. We can hear, after all.
- We don’t train in it.
Here are some of the bad habits that Nichols highlights (with some minor adjustments for recent technologies):
- telling ourselves that the topic is uninteresting
- focusing on the speaker’s weak skills or appearance
- getting caught up in what we think is wrong about what the speaker is saying
- hearing only the main facts and thereby missing the overall key points
- getting distracted when the content is unorganized
- pretending that we are listening
- allowing ourselves to be involved in distractions such as whispering or checking our phones
- getting frustrated when the content is difficult to understand or too easy for us
- letting a word or phrase get us emotionally roused up
Here are some others:
- trying to finish the other person’s sentences
- jumping to conclusions
- answering with advice even when not requested
- being impatient for the person speaking to finish
- putting in your own experiences even when they don’t quite fit
All of these are HABITS that need BREAKING.
LISTENING TO OURSELVES
So there could be any number of reasons why you aren’t listening, but none of them are a good enough reason not to listen. People say it this way to me, “People listen to respond rather than to understand.” And what that means is that people think about themselves and what they have to say rather than about the other person and what he or she is saying. We’re listening to our own internal dialog rather than to what’s out there. We are too focused on ourselves, our thoughts, our needs, our desires, our everything. That’s why the heck we aren’t listening?
When we get more secure in our own thoughts and opinions and ideas and begin wanting to say those things rather than listen to other people say their things, we stop listening.
LISTENING TO OTHERS
We need to be curious about what other people have to say. That curiosity gets us connected to other people. It gets us communicating with other people.
Listening is super important to our lives and to how effectively we live out our lives. Interacting with other people REQUIRES listening, and psychologists tell us that, if we want to fix a situation with another person, we have to shut up and listen, like REAAALLLLY LISTEN.
We never train in listening, but we should. It’s a skill. It takes practice and attention. Start intensive training on this like NOW.
Connie Benoit Sirois
Consultant | Writer | Speaker
We are called to love others as ourselves. Our communication gives us continual opportunities to do this. We should never miss a chance to honor others. I’d love for you to read about my mission.