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Tag Archives: empathetic listening

Good listening is a learned skill

In the past, I’ve talked about how the the disparity between how fast we can talk and how fast the human brain can process information is a major contributor to poor listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in”).  And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are all kinds of mental and physical barriers that get in the way of good listening as well.  So what’s a person to do, you might ask?  With the odds stacked against us, it is really possible to be a good listener?  The unequivocal answer is yes!

But listening, like any other skill, is one that gets better with use and practice.  If you play a sport of any kind, then you know exactly what I mean.  Let’s just say that your sport of choice is golf.  If you think back to the very first time you picked up a club and went out on the course, the chances are good that you didn’t play like a pro.  In fact, you probably weren’t very good at all.  But with practice, you got better!  And that’s exactly how it is with listening.  The more you make an effort at it, the more you focus on improving your skill, the better you will get at it.

Because I know that I am not naturally a good listener (I prefer to speak, after all :)), I call myself a work-in-progress.  All that means is that even though I am not a perfect listener today, I am better at it now than I was a year ago, and a year ago, I was a better listener than I was two years ago.  You get the idea!

So what about you?  Are you a good listener?  What are you doing to get better everyday?


Good listening: be aware of mental and physical barriers that can get in the way

Last November, I blogged about the disparity between how fast we can talk and how fast the human brain can process information is a major contributor to poor listening (see Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in”).  But what else can get in the way of active listening?  Well, mental and physical barriers can as well.  One example of a mental barrier is a phenomenon called self-focus, which is the endless conversation that occurs inside our heads.  Whether it is what needs to be picked up at the grocery store on the way home, a mental composition of an email note that needs to be sent out that afternoon, a thought about what to have for lunch, or just plain ol’ daydreamin’, this internal talk pulls us away from the dialogue in front of us and causes us to not listen as well as we should.  Criticism is another example of a mental barrier.  Human nature is that when we are criticized, we tend to get defensive, and defensiveness immediately impairs listening.  On the other hand, physical barriers have to do with our environment.  One universal example is noise.  It’s harder to listen and stay focused in a noisy environment where there are many other loud distractions to pull us away from the discussion at hand.

An essential component of effective communication is good listening.  So when it’s important to listen carefully, it’s well worth being aware of the physical and mental barriers that can get in the way and make communication harder.

So what do you think?  What else gets in the way of good listening?  What have I missed?

Good listening: it’s about staying “checked-in”

Interesting fact: people speak anywhere from 120-300 words per minute.

Even more interesting fact: the human brain is capable of processing information anywhere from 600-2,000 words per minute.

EarSo no matter which end of the range you select, when someone else is talking, your brain can process information about 2-7 times faster than the other person can speak.  Which suggests that while you’re participating in a conversation, you have a lot of free time! 😀  As funny as that sounds, this explains why our minds tend to wander — it’s because people can’t speak fast enough to keep our minds occupied.  I call this phenomenon “checking in and checking out.”  It’s what our brains do under normal circumstances — we “check in”, listen to a portion of the conversation, and then “check out” and go somewhere else.  We then return frequently, doing the same thing each time.  And in most situations, this constant checking-in/checking-out gives us sufficient knowledge of the topic being discussed so that we can actually participate intelligently.  However, there are times when it is essential to stay more “checked-in,” such as when the topic is important, or complicated, or tied to personal or professional goals. In future blog posts, I’ll offer some specific ideas on HOW to stay checked in.  But for now, I have a question:

What situations (personal or professional) can you think of where it is absolutely critical to stay “checked-in”?

Communicating with empathy and understanding works!

So … I teach others how to communicate effectively in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean that I always practice what I teach!  Occasionally, I get so spitting mad at a person or a situation that everything I know just evaporates from my mind.  And that’s exactly what happened to me last Wednesday night!  I was doing some late-night online banking (don’t you just love the Internet!) and I noticed an unexpected fee in one of my accounts.  I called my bank’s 24-hour Customer Service centre and explained my situation to the young man who answered the phone.  Within a few minutes, things went downhill.  Without going into the gory details, the customer “service” rep was condescending, he didn’t listen well, and our conversation ended with him lecturing me about how I should be better educated about the inner workings of my accounts.  Granted, he was probably right on the last point, but as I’ve said over and over again – it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!  Anyway, unfortunately, I let his superior attitude get to me, and before I knew it, I lost my cool!  By the time I hung up the phone, not only was I no closer to a resolution that when I first placed the call, but I was so furious that steam was coming out of my ears, and I knew that I simply couldn’t let this go! Continue reading