Are You a Good Listener?


MOST PEOPLE probably think they do listen well. Sadly it turns out that most people really are not very good at it.

Now there are many reasons why you do not listen well and I am going to share them with you along with how to do it better! So unless you are a mind reader, you may find the following revelations helpful in making you a better listener.

Communication is not linear in nature, rather it passes through many interferences between your mouth and the listeners ears. In addition,

[bctt tweet=”–there are also two sides to every conversation: the speaker and the listener.” username=”bizmastersglobal”]

Both face issues when trying to be effective with the other. Think about this……how often have you offered instructions or directions and walked away feeling you had fulfilled your responsibility because you “told” them what you wanted or expected? In the end, did you get what you desired? Usually you did not, and that was because you assumed that because you told them, that they heard it, computed and ultimately arrived at the result you expected. So what happened????

First let’s examine the issues a speaker must be aware of when sending a message to a “supposed” listener.

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  1. Listen+understand+actYour brain processes data at approximately 800-1000 words per minute. Which is pretty amazing! However, most speakers only offer 125-150 words per minute, some who speak quickly may actually manage to reach 175. Nonetheless, that rate is certainly much, much slower than your brain can handle, so it stands to reason that a person might lose concentration with such a slow intake of data and “zone out” of the conversation for a time, exploring other issues he/she might be contemplating at the time.   You would have no idea that the “listener” was “wool gathering” and so would “assume” that they had heard what you said.
  1. A person’s physical state can greatly affect their ability to concentrate on a conversation as personal issues will supersede anything you have to offer to them. So if they are tired, hungry, worried about something, too hot, too cold, or not feeling well, they will likely have a great deal of trouble focusing on what you are saying.
  1. The physical environment where the conversation is taking place could have many distracting features which would also interfere with the listener’s ability to concentrate on your message. For example; maybe there is a lot of construction or traffic noise in the area, perhaps there are fax machines or printers operating nearby, there could be people side talking or walking in and out of the area, maybe the lighting poor, or the room is too hot or too cold. All of these issues can be very distracting to a person and therefore impact negatively on their ability to concentrate on what you are saying to them.
  1. If you use language that is unfamiliar to the listener they will have a difficult time focusing on your message for any length of time as it takes a great deal of energy to try to listen to words that you do not understand. Therefore when explaining something to another individual, you much choose language that can relate to and comprehend or they will not receive your message as intended. For example, many professionals find it more specific to use the terminology of their profession, however if you are not part of that profession, those terms will likely not be known to you and so you will not understand what they are telling you.   If they ask you if you understand, you will likely say yes as you will not want the speaker to think you are uneducated. However, that will not help you to obtain a clear idea of what they have told you.
  1. Some people come to a conversation with a preconceived idea of what you are going to say or feel they have heard it all before, or it is below or above their level of understanding. When this happens, the message literally hits a “wall” and the “listener” does not hear what is being said.
  1. Competing conversations are impossible to listen to, as we can truly only hear one at a time. Therefore if there is another exchange taking place nearby it will be most distracting and likely take away from the listener’s ability to focus fully on your message, which means some or all of it will be missed. [/message][su_spacer]

Now, unless you are a mind reader, as the speaker you would have no idea that the “listener” was experiencing any of the above situations so would likely “assume” (which, obviously gets you into a lot of trouble as it makes an ass out of you and me) that they had heard what you said.   Unfortunately, because they did not hear your message, you will not get what you want. This will result in conflict, disappointment, resentment, confusion, and complaining, all of which can be stressful……none of which is positive.

Instead, what you should really do when having an important conversation that requires an outcome is this.

First get some concrete feedback from the listener as to what they did hear and then what they intend to do with what they heard. In that way you will discover whether or not the message you sent was the one received and if the listener did, in fact, process the information as you wished and so concluded that the action necessary was the one you expected.

Once you are assured that you are going get what you want both of you can depart knowing that the exchange was clear and the outcome will make both of you satisfied.

Now as the listener, if you find that you have ‘zoned’ out for a while and missed part of the exchange, it is best to own up to the lapse and ask for clarification of the matter. In addition, it is good to summarize back to the speaker what you have heard to make sure that you did get the intended message and are both on the same page regarding the issue being addressed.   Too often this part of the conversation does not take place that is why the above negative outcomes can occur, and sadly, often do!

So, now that you are aware of the interferences and subsequent consequences of poor listening, I trust that you will now become a better listener so will be able to reduce the conflict and stress you experience and be happier, healthier, and more successful in all aspects of your life.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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    • Hi Chris,
      Once again, thank you for sharing your unique and insightful perspective on this most important skill. Being in the moment can be very beneficial in any relationship and we miss so much when we are not really paying attention. Your comments are always right on the money!

    • Hi Larry, Thank you so much, again glad you liked the post and love what you shared! Mother Nature sent us a very strong message: she gave us two ears and one mouth….so we should certainly be listening twice as much as we speak and indeed that is how we learn! Have a great week!

  1. Good Listeners make Great Leaders! Why, because they have the uncanny ability to observe, listen, understand, absorb, and act with absolute focus.

    Great article, Sandy, coupled with a crucial life-lesson we can all use to grow further!

    Thank You & Warm Regards

    • Thanks so much, Bharat…. and I totally agree with you regarding great leaders. In fact a study that came out a few years ago conducted by Global Knowledge found that the most important skill for excellent leadership: effective communication. And, of course, active listening is the cornerstone for that! We can all enjoy less conflict in our lives if we listen more actively!

  2. Thanks so much, Aercio, I appreciate you taking the time to check this out and to relate it to my book. The first few articles I am submitting will be on communication skills as they are so key in all aspects of our lives! Have a good week!