Are people really hard of hearing, or are they hard of listening? There is a real difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.
I know you have all heard of the statistics about retention. But, depending on the study quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. Which also means that the listener is only paying attention to less than half of the conversation. So why do we experience the hard-of-listening challenge? Often times we get distracted by whatever else may be going on around us. Or we focus on what we think we should be doing – the never ending “to do list.” We may start to form our counter arguments/responses that we plan to make or we simply might get bored with what is being said.
- Pay attention – Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message; recognize that non-verbal communications also are key to the message. Use direct eye contact. Put aside the distractions – cell phone/to do lists – thoughts. Don’t allow yourself to go to the preparation of the rebuttal. Observe the non-verbal communication of the speaker.
- Show that you are listening – Use your body language and gestures to convey that the speaker has your undivided attention. Nod occasionally, smile, use other expressions to show interest. Use short verbal comments, like "yes," "I understand," or "uh huh."
- Provide feedback – To ensure that you truly understand, you will need to ask clarifying questions. We all have a unique ladder of inference – personal filters, assumptions, and beliefs. Asking questions ensures that you are receiving the communication as intended. Use phrases like “What I am hearing is…” or “Do you mean …" or “Let me test my understanding…” or “Can I play back to you what I think I have heard?”
- Defer judgment – Do not intererupt the speaker – allow them to finish.
- Respond appropriately – Be respectful. Be honest. Be open. Remember the Golden Rule.
Remember that we have two ears and one mouth – focus on listening twice as much as speaking. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” Stephen Covey. The seeking is the practicing – you have to be intentional about what you practice.