How often do you find yourself saying things like “I’m sorry…can you repeat that?” or “What did you say?”  Probably more than you want to admit, if you are like most people.  The reality is we live in a very noisy world today with constant distractions like text messages, push notifications, emails, social media notifications and more—and we’re connected 24/7.

We know how important listening is as a 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 poor and inefficient listeners, and the question is why?

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

We are short on listening training 

Remember the days of Ham radios?  It used a “simplex” mode of communicating where one station transmitted while the other listened, and then the roles were 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”.

On the other hand, “duplex” communication occurs when stations transmit and receive simultaneously, allowing both parties to speak, like using a telephone.  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 different directions resulting in 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 the 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!  The result is we use only a fraction of our mental capacity to listen, so 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 often ignore the issue and act as if all is well, and 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.  We all have a responsibility to remember the first rule of communication:  “Seek first to understand.”

Listening takes some real work!

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

Relevancy is key

Relevancy is critical to engage all, especially the younger generations like millennials.  If there is no relevancy to their interests, you can guarantee without interest or relevance the listener(s) will seek out more interesting engagement elsewhere.

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

  • 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 to 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!