Why listening is so difficult ... and what to do about it

Bob Weinstein,

Speaking is easy; listening is difficult.

Experts say that that the average person actually remembers a fraction of what is said to them.

In the course of a lifetime, so much time is spent mastering nuts and bolts career skills, but little time is spent polishing essential interpersonal skills. Listening is one of them.

For decades, recruiters, HR people and organizational heads have complained about job candidates lacking strong communication skills. This is a common complaint from recruiters in all industries. IT candidates, particularly, are singled out for lacking rudimentary communication skills.

“One of the reasons for difficulty listening is because there is too much stimulation around us,” according to Cherie Kerr, president of ExecuProv, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based communication training company.

Technology is the culprit
But the real culprit, Kerr asserts, is technology - PDAs, cell phones, Blackberries and iPhones. “There is so much going on, it’s difficult to focus on what people are saying to us,” says Kerr.

Gilda Carle, a New York City-based psychotherapist, says that we have trouble listening because we focus on body language 55 per cent of the time, and on vocal intonation 38 per cent of the time. That leaves only seven per cent to devote to what someone is saying. “We’re terrible listeners because we are distracted by 93 per cent of these nonverbal cues as opposed to the seven per cent of what we should be hearing,” says Carle.

How to be a better listener
Think of listening as a skill that must be mastered. Nobody is born knowing how to read and write. These essentials skills are mastered by constant practice. Similarly, listening has to be learned the same way. Kerr says the first step in mastering listening is what she calls, “Being here now.”  The means “staying in the moment we are in, concentrating on every second of a conversation. If we don’t, we might miss a critical cue or idea.”

Why salespeople are good listeners
A sound strategy for improving listening skills is adopting the techniques of veteran salespeople. A good salesperson is always listening and paying close attention to what his or her prospects or customers are saying. One way to remember what people say is to repeat back to them what they are saying, so that the thought is understood and remembered.

One of the hardest things to do during a first face-to-face conversation with someone is to remember the person’s name. A loud environment such as a busy restaurant or a convention hall may limit what you hear the person saying.

So you don’t forget the name ask if the person has a business card. On the back of the card, write the date of the conversation and notes about the conversation, such as information you have promised to send to the speaker.

Don’t expect to become a good listener overnight. It takes time, patience, concentration and hard work. You can start by slowing down. Just because everything around you is happening quickly doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Apply the brakes, focus and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you hear and remember.

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About the Author

Bob Weinstein is a writer, reporter, editor and author. He can be reached via email at robertvweinstein@gmail.com.