Published - March 2001

By Dave Jakielo


Wow, isn't it amazing how rapidly modes of communication are changing in our fast paced world. Many of us now have email, voice mail, pagers, and cellular phones, to name a few of the modern communication tools. However, even with all of these ingenious inventions we still find that miscommunication is rampant.

As I travel around the United States and the world, there is one universal cry that I always hear; "Nobody listens to me." This cry can be heard not only in the workplace but at social events and in our homes too. Bosses accuse workers, coworkers accuse each other, children accuse parents and parents accuse children of not listening.

In this article I want to concentrate on face to face verbal communications, particularly one important part of the communication process, "Listening Skills." Most people believe that they are effective listeners however, research shows that on average people are effective listeners only 25 percent of the time.

The remaining 75 percent of the time we are confronted with "listening barriers," that makes us very ineffective listeners.

Part of the problem is that there are many barriers to effective communication such as:

We're too busy being busy.
Surrounding environmental noise.
Predetermining if a particular message will be valuable.
Prejudging if the sender is worth listening to.

Even though we may face some of the above barriers, it is our responsibility in the communication process as a listener to ensure we understand what the other party is saying.

Many times when we think of communicating we focus all of our efforts in the areas of, what to say and how to say it. Many people will spend hours practicing the delivery of a speech however; seldom do we devote any practice time to listening.

It is imperative that we do not forget the following: We have two ears and one mouth and we are to use them in that proportion. In other words, you should listen twice as much as you talk.

It is important you do not confuse hearing with listening because they are two different things. Hearing relates to the absorption of all the noise that goes on around us like the hum of a laser printer, the wide variety of cell phones ringing and pagers beeping, etc. We have learned to tune those sounds out. Unfortunately many of us have gotten so good at tuning out unwanted sounds in our environment, that many times we tune out the folks who are trying to communicate with us.

Hearing on the other hand is an "involvement sport." You must devote your undivided attentions to the speaker. You can't be doing anything else when you are trying to listen. Many times I've seen people at their desks with their heads down continuing to work and say to a person who is trying to talk to them, "Go ahead, I'm listening." Wrong, no one can continue to work and listen too.

However, listening has become a lost art. Try this little quiz to see if you need help listening:

1. Do you grow impatient and find yourself finishing other peoples' sentences?
2. Do you interrupt people so you can get your point across?
3. Do you find that you're not really listening to what the other person is saying, just waiting for your turn to talk?
4. Have you ever caught yourself looking into someone else's eyes and realizing that you haven't heard a word they said?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions you may find the following tips helpful.

Keep in mind that listening is not a multi task event. Anytime you are required to be listening to someone you must give them your undivided attention.

There are techniques that will help improve your listening skills almost immediately. Try to adopt some of the practices listed below, and you and the people around you will notice a difference in your "Listening quotient."

L - Lean forward into the conversation.
I - "I see." Use similar phrase when they take a breath as an acknowledgment.
S - Smile. If the situation calls for it.
T - Turn around. Be face to face, you can't listen when your back is turned.
E - Eye Contact. This helps you connect and concentrate, but don't stare.
N - Nod your head. It's a gesture that indicates that you're involved.

Well, some of the above ideas will give you a head's up on being a better listener. However, even with the best intentions we may find ourselves wandering when someone is talking to us. If you find yourself in this situation keep this in mind, "DON'T FAKE IT," especially if you are married and want to stay that way.

Your best bet is to let the other person know that you became distracted and missed a part of their message. You will be surprised how many of us are like tape recorders. When you tell them where you checked out of the conversation, the speakers have an uncanny ability to rewind themselves and start over again at a particular point. Now you can't get away with this time and time again but once in awhile is OK.

The advantages of investing time in becoming a better listener will reap high rewards. It won't only improve our communications at work and enhance our careers but if you practice these techniques every time you're in a communicating situation you will see your entire life improve. Because being a better listener also means we are better co-workers, friends, spouses, parents and family members.

But like any skill you can only become a better listener if you have the desire to improve. Just saying you want to be a better listener won't cut it, you must practice, practice and practice some more.

People will consider you to be a valuable coworker, friend or family member if you'll just take the time to listen to them. It isn't a contest about who speaks the most. The goal in any communication is to ensure that the message gets across whether you are the sender or receiver.

Lastly always remember, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Being an effective listener is a great way to show people you care.

Remember this monthly feature will address topics of interest to you. Please send your ideas on topics you would like addressed, forward interesting articles and send your questions to: Dave Jakielo, Seminars and Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15205-3214. Phone and Fax numbers are 412-921-0976. Email or visit my web page

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