Cut Through the Noise and Learn to Listen

Written by Posted On Thursday, 29 August 2019 05:00

Do you catch yourself saying things like “I’m sorry!  Can you repeat that?” or “What did you say?”  If you’re like most people, you say this more often than you want to admit.  The reality is we live in a very noisy world with distractions like text messages, emails, social media notifications, and more demanding our attention 24/7. 

We know listening is an important communication skill; it has been shown that on average, we spend up to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication.  But here’s the kicker: Studies indicate we only spend 45 percent of our time listening. We’re busted! Most of us are distracted and multi-tasking, and that makes us inefficient listeners.  When we are poor listeners, misunderstandings can happen, and disconnection is likely.

Here are some ways to improve our connections and make active listening a priority.

We are short on listening training  

Remember the old days of Ham radios?  It used a “simplex” mode of communicating where one station transmitted while the other listened. The roles were then reversed, allowing both sides to transmit, be heard and then sequentially respond to the messaging.  Communication was orderly and clear—we knew we couldn’t respond until the other party said “Over”.  

Using a telephone is an example of “duplex” communication. This means both stations transmit and receive simultaneously, allowing both parties to speak at the same time.  But in our world of constant connectivity, not only can you talk on the phone, but you can simultaneously receive text messages, news or social media notifications, reminders, and more. Your attention is pulled in so many different directions. The result? Distraction, fractured communication, and truly diminished listening. 

When we allow another to speak and are fully present in the listening process, we send a message that communicates trust, confidence and that we value the speaker.  By using a “simplex” approach you will understand more and respond in an appropriate and gracious manner. 

We think faster than we speak

We tend to speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute, but we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute if it were possible to speak that fast!  Because we only use a fraction of our mental capacity to listen, if the speaker is not engaging our attention, our brains will start to wander and pay attention to something else. 

What did you say?  

If you have ever suffered from an ear infection or plugged-up ears, you know that sometimes you simply cannot hear.  As we age, we frequently experience hearing loss, causing our listening skills to diminish. People with hearing loss frequently ignore the issue and pretend that all is well, and then miss critical parts of a conversation. Paying full attention, asking for clarification and reiterating back the statement notifies the speaker that you are in fact on the same page.  It’s important to remember the first rule of communication: “Seek first to understand.”

Listening takes some real work!

Giving another person your full attention is a true gift and makes them feel important, but it also requires concentration. If you’ve ever had an in depth or challenging conversation with someone, you may have felt both physically and mentally fatigued after that. It takes increased focus to listen attentively, so give yourself a mental/physical break occasionally to refresh and reboot your attention factor.   

Relevancy is key

If a conversation has little or no relevance to the other person, the listener(s) will find more interest in other thoughts.  Relevancy is critical to engage the younger generations, especially millennials. If there is no relevancy to their interests, you can bet they will not pay attention. 

Here are a few tips to help you become a better listener: 

• Forget about yourself and become fascinated with the person you are speaking with. Clear focus is complimentary to the other person and causes you to understand their needs and what they are trying to convey. 

• When you invest in communication training (such as NLP training, body language, transactional analysis, and conversational intelligence) you will develop deeper listening skills, learn to observe behaviors and get to the core of the authentic exchange.

• Ask for clarification during a conversation to show your interest.  Even saying “How interesting, tell me more!” is greatly appreciated by the other person.

The gift of your attention is one of the most extraordinary gifts you can offer another individual.  Follow Ken Blanchard’s advice of: “Lead with your ears!” and you will harness the power of heightened communication skills and others will find you irresistible! 

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Terri Murphy

Terri Murphy, Communication engagement specialist, author, speaker, consultant, and Master Coach with Workman Success. She is the author of 5 books, TedTalk speaker and co-radio host on Contact: or Email: [email protected]

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