Good listening is crucial to effective communication and career success. However, only about 10% of us listen properly. Most of us don’t know how to listen intelligently, systematically and purposefully.

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Think about your most recent conversations at work. If you remember what you said better than what you heard, you’ve probably developed some pretty bad listening habits. Instead of really listening, you let your mind wander while others were talking. You were thinking about what you were going to say before the others had finished. Poor listening can cause snafus in the office such as missing important appointments, misunderstanding directions, misinterpreting valuable suggestions or addressing the wrong problems.

There is little doubt that disgraceful listening habits have hindered many managerial careers. According to several estimates, about 45% of a manager’s typical day is spent listening. Some managers believe they earn up to 60% of their salaries by listening. The higher the manager is on the corporate ladder, the more time she spends listening to others. Interestingly, most executive-appraisal studies find that managers who are rated most efficient by subordinates invariably are good listeners.

Mastering the Art

Becoming aware of poor listening skills, paired with a conscious effort at overcoming them, will help you to master the art of listening. Try these useful tips in improving your listening:

  • Increase your listening skills. Interrupting and finishing a speaker’s sentences damages communication. Deliberately try to inhibit your temptation to interrupt. Make sure the speaker has finished conveying the message before you speak.
  • Take time to listen. Don’t rationalize that you’re too busy to listen. Instead, set aside whatever you’re doing. This will reassure the speaker that he doesn’t have to talk faster or abbreviate the message. It will also help you to concentrate on what’s being said.
  • Adapt your thought speed. You can think three to four times faster than a person can talk, which is a major reason for poor concentration. Impatient with the speaker’s slow progress, your mind wanders off until you hear something that interests you. Then you realize you’ve missed something, and you don’t really understand what the person is asking. When the temptation to take brief mental excursions becomes irresistible — this frequently happens while listening to long-winded speakers — your listening efficiency drops to near zero.
  • Listen between the lines. Concentrate not only on what’s being said but also on the attitudes, needs and motives behind the words. Remember that the speaker’s words may not always contain the entire message. The changing tones and volume of the speaker’s voice may have meaning. So may facial expressions, gestures and body movements. Being alert to nonverbal cues increases your total comprehension of the message.