When I teach Listening in my seminars and workshops, I always like to help introduce the topic by asking the room: Is it possible to hear without listening? Participants always say yes immediately…and, in doing so, their faces seem to instantly recall times they have performed or witnessed very poor listening…despite perfect hearing! Agreed on that, I then ask: Is it possible to listen without hearing? Suddenly there is pause in their faces, differences in their responses and in contemplating an answer to this question the real “Listening” discussion begins!
You want to join this conversation because you know from experience that there is a major difference between “hearing” and “listening”…not just because it is possible to do either without doing the other…and not just because one process is passive while the other is active…and not entirely because one process is physio-logical while the other is psycho-logical but in addition to those distinctions you know there is a difference between “hearing” and “listening” because you experience on a daily basis all the pain of miscommunication that results from poor listening…despite perfect hearing.
Poor listening can lead to many problems in the workplace, including:
- Dissatisfied customer
- Missed deadlines
- Poor morale among coworkers
- Assignments completed incorrectly
- Uniformed decision-making and problem solving
- Even workplace violence, harassment, accidents/injuries or even death can result from failure to listen effectively.
The true/total costs of poor listening in the workplace are beyond calculation. The time, money and even human life we lose to poor listening should motivate us to improve, but we don’t.
Meanwhile, just about every workplace victory you can think of will include examples of excellent listening. I believe that success in life and business is ALL about Listening! And, you agree! I mean, everyone knows how important listening is right? But how many of us actively work to improve our listening?
So, this article wants to actually improve YOUR listening. Its first challenge is to get the guilty verdict on our collective ineptitude as listeners. But, listening is like driving (or better yet, parenting) in that it is one of those things that we all believe we are good at yet also believe that everybody else is bad at (or not as good as US anyway). George Carlin explained this ego-centrism best when he explained that everyone on the road driving faster than US is a “maniac” while anyone driving slower than US is a “moron.”
You hope the most important people in your professional life are great listeners (the boss, the client, the vendor, the sub-ordinate, peer or assistant), and you CERTAINLY want the very best listening skills for you children, parents, spouses, friends, teammates/partners, employees, etc. But YOUR listening is just fine, right? Well, if you have the slightest notion that YOUR listening can improve, here are six steps to Listening for Success!!!
STEP ONE: LISTENING WITHOUT HEARING
So, back to our original question: Can we “listen” without hearing? My answer is absolutely YES! Consider these examples:
- The doctor attempting to locate the injury…”how about now? No? Does this hurt? No? How about now?” or…
- The co-worker that asks where you feel like going for lunch today…”do you feel like Italian? A Burger? Chinese? Something lite like a good salad?” or…
- The cell phone call that fights through weak signal just before the call is dropped…”are you there? Can you hear me? Can you HEAR ME? Hello? I can hear YOU, can you hear ME?” or one of my favorites:
- Being woken up in the middle of the night by a spouse who just “heard something” and must make sure that you heard it also…”honey, did you hear that?” “What?” “I HEARD something, did you hear it?” “No” “Well, listen…THERE, did you hear THAT?” “No, what?” “THAT!” “WHAT?!?”
Standing still with a fly swatter in your hand in striking position, but completely still…eyes widened to make a large peripheral of vision so as to more easily/quickly “SEE” the fly when it returns from the swing-n-miss it just evaded before you returned to still/striking position?
OK, so I try to have fun when I argue that Step One to improve your listening is to separate and isolate “hearing” from the listening process as a whole. We all know the difference between hearing and listening, right? Consider the beauty of the platitude you may have heard regarding why God gave us one mouth and two ears…because we should do twice as much listening as we do talking. No argument there. The problem with this cliché, however, is that it creates a mental association for us that we “listen with our ears” when what we really do with them is “hear.”
Hearing, alone, is a passive/physiological process of “observing” sound waves, audio waves, etc. Listening, on the other hand, is an ACTIVE/psychological process…and the real difference between hearing and listening is the issue of attention! From among the things we “observe” to which does our get attention paid? Is attention paid at all? If attention is paid, is that an expense or investment? I digress a little here, but will discuss questions of “attention” a bit further below.
STEP TWO: INVITE ALL OF YOUR SENSES TO THE PARTY
For now, Step two in our efforts to improve our listening is to actually REPLACE the word “hearing” with the word “observing” when discussing the listening process as a whole. Textbooks tell us that Listening, as a process, involves the following six stages or “ing” words (as I call them):
Clearly we engage in the remaining five “ings” after tasting, touching, smelling and seeing as we do after “hearing”? So, when we realize that we can listen to the observations of all our senses (not just hearing) we move towards an understanding of how complex this listening business can be! But, how complex is it?
STEP THREE: THE QUESTIONS of ATTENTION’s INTENTIONS
Well, the amount of information that is “observed” by the senses sub-consciously is estimated at 400 billion bits of data (yes, billion) per second (yes, per second!). Imagine that! Of this amount, researchers estimate that only two thousand are actually brought to consciousness (processed psychologically). This means we have incredible filtering capacity but also begs several questions regarding HOW we filter and WHAT gets filtered…questions about the attention that gets paid or unpaid to all of our observations on a second-to-second, minute-to-minute basis.
So, a Third Step towards listening effectiveness is to ask and answer (for yourself before others) some of the questions of attention:
- What determines which 2,000 bits make it to consciousness and why the other 399,998,000 don’t?
- Of the 2,000 that DO make it to consciousness, how many of them CAN we attend to?
- How radically is our effectiveness diluted with each new/additional “bit” of data we attempt to attend to?
- What determines which of the 2,000 we’ll attend to if we are unable to attend to them all?
- Do our logical and emotional selves have “equal votes” when it comes to deciding what we will “pay attention” to?
- When we WANT to pay attention to something, how is it that our attention can simply “drift” to something else?
- Or why, when we’d prefer NOT to be thinking about those exact things still manage to grab and hold our attention?
When asking yourself these and other questions of attention, your answers will most likely be found in the “purposes” of listening.
Come back tomorrow for part 2!