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Listening 101

Written by Posted On Thursday, 21 November 2019 05:30

We are in some form of communication almost every minute of the day. Whether it is talking in person, on the phone, by text or messenger, or even with your body language—humans are hardwired to communicate and express themselves. No matter how hard we attempt to express ourselves, if the person you’re in contact with is not fully listening, your message won’t get through.

Listening takes effort!

Studies confirm that almost immediately after listening to even a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener only retains 50 percent of what was said!  There may be several reasons for this low retention rate, such as the information was poorly presented, it was too detailed, or maybe it was just flat-out boring. If the information was being delivered through an audio recording, or on a phone call, it’s possible that the sound quality was inadequate, making it hard to follow. 

Listening to a long, drawn-out conversation filled with a lot of detail can be exhausting. If you’re like most people, you probably felt mentally and physically worn out after that challenging conversation.  

The reality is listening takes a lot of work! To be a good listener requires 100% of your focus. Giving another person your attention is not only a gift, it is a powerful action.

Get in the habit of active listening

If you want to improve your listening skills, you need to make a conscious decision to become an active listener. You may find that you listen better if you take notes of what is being said.   When you create a mental or written summary with an authentic commitment to being open to communicating with another person, it makes them feel important—and you retain more information.

However, active listening can be exhausting, so build up your stamina by giving yourself a mental and physical break by listening to some music that makes you happy, taking a ten-minute walk outside, or perhaps meditate for a few minutes to recharge yourself.

Here’s a few tips to help you become a better listener: 

• Become fascinated with the person you are speaking with. Focus 100% on what they are saying, and forget about yourself. The majority of people believe they are listening, when in reality they are waiting for their chance to reply. Make this your new motto to improve your listening skills: Listen to understand, not reply.

• Don’t interrupt! Too often when we’re listening to someone, we jump in and cut them off mid-sentence in our hurry to offer our advice or share our story. That’s shifting the focus to you, and you’re no longer listening.  Practice becoming a better listener by doing this four-minute exercise with a friend or colleague. Face each other with no distractions, other than a timer set for 2 minutes. Use a prompt to start the conversation, such as “How are you?” The person in the listener role do not respond at all for the full two minutes, other than using facial expressions, nodding your head, etc. At the end of the two-minutes, switch roles. The idea behind the exercise is to hone your ability to hear the words being said, to connect and understand, not to reply.

• Put your devices down! Nothing says you’re not interested in what the other person is saying more than constantly checking your device every time you get a notification of a text, tweet, or a Facebook message.  Unless your grandmother is dying and you’re waiting for the news you need to go see her, then put your device away! Really, reading that tweet can wait for a few minutes! If you are expecting an urgent phone call that can’t wait, then preface the start of your conversation with a disclaimer that you are expecting a call that you have to take.

• Ask questions to show your interest. Asking questions to get the other person to elaborate or clarify something they said is always appropriate during active listening. Your questions show the person speaking that you’re paying attention and are engaged in the conversation. 

The gift of your attention is one of the most extraordinary gifts you can offer another individual.  Active listening builds trust, reduces the chance for conflict due to misunderstandings, and cultivates the power of connection. 

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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:

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