Five Reasons Why We Are Not Listening
by Geok Chwee Ong
When is the last time you spoke to someone and felt genuinely understood and listened to? A long time back? You are not alone. There are five key reasons why we are not listening:
1. I know what you are going to say
We have our own internal set of reality and our own world views. When the other person starts talking, we are formulating our own storyline inside our head. Very often, our past experiences, perceptions and opinions come together to “predict” what the person is trying to say. We jump to our own conclusions and think that we already know what the storyline is about. So, we stop listening.
2. Hmm, that is an interesting Facebook post… you are saying?
Our attention span is getting shorter and we are easily distracted. Blame it on the social media and connectedness of technology. When was the last time you really focus on what the person in front of you was sharing? And for how long? Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. Stop checking on your emails, social medias and Whatsapp when you are engaged in a conversation. Even darting your eyes over the mobile screen while engaged in a conversation reduces the level of engagement.
3. When are you going to shut up and listen to me?
We love to listen to ourselves… more than others. Most people love to talk and share their views. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share your views. However, being too eager to do that when you are supposed to be listening to the party talking, is not a good habit. Can you recall how annoyed you are when the other party simply jumped in before you can finish talking?
4. Ah, I hear you…
Women complain about men not listening to what they are saying. The men felt as misunderstood as they thought they knew what their wives are telling them. We all have listening biases and our own filter. The same words are interpreted differently to different people. Most men being more task oriented, filtered the content to arrive at the “next job to be done” when their spouses maybe trying to get across their feelings. So, the next time your other half complains that you are not “listening,” check on your internal filters and tune your hearing towards what he/she is trying to share.
5. I don’t like you or what you are saying
There are times when we purposely “switch off” our hearing sensors. We do not want to hear what the person is saying. So, automatically, our intelligent brain will tune out our hearing sensors and we hear “Blah, blah, blah.”
Why is listening important? It is not just for the sake of understanding the underlying message that the other party is trying to get across. It is a key component of building trust. Based on the research of Adler, R., Rosenfeld, L. and Proctor, R. (2001), adults spend an average of 70% of their time engaged in some sort of communication, of this an average of 45% is spent listening compared to 30% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing. If we are spending so much time listening, we better be a master of this skill!
According to the International Association of Coaching, engaged listening refers to: Giving full attention to the words, nuances, and unspoken meaning of the client’s communication and is more deeply aware of the client by listening beyond what the client is able to articulate. The outcome of practicing engaged listening is that the other party feels understood and validated, not judged. Engaged listening is critical not only as the foundation of building trust, it is also important for seeking the full clarity of what the other party is trying to articulate.
So, where do we start to “listen better”? I thought the ASAP Model is where we can jump into:
Attend verbally and non-verbally
Attention is the key word here. We have to give the other party our complete attention without being distracted. Keep your phone in your pocket, focus your mind on the whole of what the person is sharing. Observe his/her body language besides the words used. Studies show that your words account for only 7% of the message you convey. The remaining 93% is non-verbal. 55% of communication is based on what people see and the other 38% is transmitted through tone of voice.
Listening is not just about keeping silent when the other party is talking. It is equally if not more important to ask open-ended questions to solicit the other party’s view and to understand his/her reasoning behind them. Active listening has an objective of actively seeking to understand. One of the habits in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People: “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” is a good reminder to us to practice engaged listening.
Ask Clarifying questions
As we listen, we have to be aware of our own biases – filters that might distort the understanding that we have. By asking clarifying questions, we are piecing together the information to help us get the full picture. Asking powerful questions clear up ambiguities, generalities and, in the process, bring across the message that we are truly engaged in listening to the other party who will felt “heard.”
Paraphrase to check your understanding
Reflecting back to the party what you had heard is an effective way of checking if you are receiving and interpreting the information correctly. The process also helps the party sharing to validate that you have indeed understood him/her. If there are any miscommunications, this will bring the gaps out immediately.
Bearing “ASAP” in mind is a simple and effective way of honing our listening skills. If we are spending more than 45% of our communication time listening, it would be a good investment to invest our time honing the skill. If you need more exercises to strengthen your listening muscles, check out Julian Treasures’ Five Ways to Listen Better. I am sure we will all benefit tremendously by picking up a trick or two from him in practicing our listening abilities and start to pick up information beyond the spoken words.