How long has it been since you were having a conversation with someone and suddenly realized you had no idea what they just said to you? 24 hours? Five hours? Five minutes? It happens to all of us.
There is sciencey stuff to explain it that we always share in our communication training. Our brains simply process words faster than we can speak them. In fact, the differential is about 75%.
Yikes. Our brains have lots of time to wander around while we are talking to each other. That’s why the ability to listen attentively is such a critical part of communication. How much of your work depends on you listening to someone, or someone listening to you?
If you are a manager, being a good listener is hugely important. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65% of employees don’t feel appreciated at work. 65%!! One way to fix that is for managers to learn to listen in a way that make employees feel heard.
We listen differently
In addition to the brain stuff, communication preferences also affect listening. Some of us prefer to talk and think at a faster pace than others do. For me, I’m a doer. I’m all about bullet points and making quick decisions and moving on to the next challenge. I use fewer words, and need to hear fewer words. My husband is quite the opposite. He’s an analyzer. He wants a slower pace so he can process. Quite often, our conversations result in me getting impatient or being short, trying to move things along. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what he’s saying (well, mostly); it just means we are processing at different speeds.
Respecting other people’s communication preferences is one way to improve our listening skills. Following are three tools you can use to listen more attentively.
- Make eye contact: When you are looking someone in the eye, you are more focused on them. Plus, you are also reading their facial expressions, which are a big part of communication.
- Ask clarifying questions: Help your brain not only process, but also store information. Asking clarifying questions focuses your brain by putting it in the mode of information retention.
- Summarize, paraphrase or rephrase: If your brain is actively working on synthesizing the information you’re hearing, it’s more likely to stay connected to the speaker.
A lot goes into effective communication. Speaking and listening are equally important. Using these tips, and learning to read behaviors, can help you equalize speed differences. At Ignite, we spend a lot of time training on this topic. Let us know if your organization could use some help.