Leading Requires Listening

ListeningDo you hear what I hear? Alright, sorry for that earworm. But, do you? How would you rate your listening skills? What about those of your organization’s leaders? It’s probably not something you think much about. We’re all busy. We frequently deal with background noise, unclear messages, interruptions, competing tasks, deadlines, personal issues – our brains are on overload.

Author and professor Dr. Judi Brownell writes, “Attention is a selective process that controls our awareness of events in the environment. Every day there are literally hundreds of sounds all around you that you never notice because you aren’t paying attention to them. If you don’t pay attention to something, it’s as if it never existed.”

So, how do you listen? We’ve learned a few things from extensive research that’s been done on the subject. The International Listening Association reports that most people speak between 120 and 180 words per minute. The average person can understand 400 to 500 words per minute – three times more than the rate of speech. Some people speak so slowly that listeners begin to ‘wander’ through other things on their mind.

The art of listening requires that we empty our mind. You must try to let go of your opinions, what you anticipate the speaker will say, and your temptation to interrupt or formulate your response before he or she has finished. When you focus on the speaker and listen with not only your mind but also your heart and physical self, you’ll soon become aware of the space between the words. That’s where much of the meaning can be found.

Messages and intentions are communicated not only from the mouth, but from the body. Non-verbal communication is subtle but important. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions, conducted several studies on non-verbal communication. Here’s what he found:

  • 7% of any message is conveyed through words – only 7%
  • 38% through certain vocal elements like tone of voice
  • 55% through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, posture, energy and gestures

It’s been estimated that less than 2% of all professionals have had any formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques. Think about it – how many relationships would improve, how much money could be saved from costly mistakes, how much better could the culture of an organization become if everyone mastered the art of listening?

Give someone what he or she desires – to be heard. It’s a fundamental practice sure to improve our experiences in business and life.

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