HealthZette

Poor Listening Skills Are Holding You Back

Now hear this: Business is on the line and marriages are on the rocks.

Chances are, your poor listening skills are costing you money.

Got your attention? Or are you still texting with your phone in one hand and trying to do something else while reading this?

Focus for just a minute.

We’ve become a society that values getting things done quickly. Multitasking amid a nonstop flow of information flooding our lives and our brains has become the norm. But while we’re trying to soak up information from multiple sources at one time, are we doing any one thing well?

A University of Maryland study from 2009 shows that hospitals across the United States lose $12 billion annually because of poor communication. Innolect Inc., a business management enterprise, says Fortune 500 companies waste at least $75 million each year in ineffective meetings because of poor listening skills. And the average cost per year for poor listening amounts to as much as $26,042 for each worker in the United States.

It isn’t just your business life that is suffering from weak listening skills. Multiple studies have shown that the lack of communication between couples is the leading cause of divorce in this country, followed by financial trouble and infidelity.

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Julian Treasure, chairman of the Sound Agency in Chertsey, England, says our listening abilities are under threat.“It’s rare that we encounter silence or even a high level of stillness or quiet,” he told LifeZette.

“We start to habituate to that noise, we start to suppress it, so we get into the habit of not listening. We have a multiple-stream culture where kids are quite happy to be watching TV, texting somebody and talking to somebody all at the same time. We get accustomed to more and more layers. Real listening is paying 100 percent attention to someone speaking, not using 10 percent of our bandwidth,” he said.

“Our society is much more oriented around sending than listening. People are much keener to be heard than to hear.”

Treasure also said the high level of noise we encounter can negatively affect our health. He points out that sound has an influence on our heart rate and hormone levels and that it can influence our behavior. He cites frequent police reports that describe crime scenes with excessive and loud noise.

Laura Janusik, associate professor of communication at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, has done research that shows the decline of listening throughout the years. She found that the amount of time we spend listening each day has decreased from 45 percent in 1930 to 24 percent in 2007. That’s a startling statistic.

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Janusik believes the decline in listening is in part due to our ready access to written information.

“We know how easy it is to retrieve because of Google. So we don’t try that hard to listen to understand,” she told LifeZette.

She also points out the learning gap around listening skills.

“It’s the most used communication skill (as rated against reading, writing, and speaking), yet it’s the one that is least often taught. Though most of us figure out how to get by with some basic listening skills, most individuals do not fully develop their capacities to listen because they think they don’t have a problem,” she said.

It’s likely we all have a problem. Good news: It’s possible to improve. Janusik says listening is composed of two parts — behavior and cognition. Cognition refers to whether you can mentally comprehend what is being communicated to you. Behavior refers to the nonverbal and verbal communications you use to let the people speaking know they have been heard and understood.

She says there’s actually a large gender gap in how men and women communicate.

“Women typically show listening through eye contact, head nods, facial expressions, asking questions. Men often listen solely cognitively, so they know they understand, but they don’t show the other person that they understand,” she said.

How good are you at listening? Ask yourself:

1: Do you use nonverbal communication (such as eye contact and nodding) to let the speaker know you are listening?

2: Are your thoughts focused on what the other person is saying?

3: Do you ask clarifying questions to help you understand what the other person is saying?

4: Can you remember most of what you discussed in a meeting without looking at your notes?

5: Do you consider and build on the other person’s ideas?

6: Do you take time to sit in silence for a few minutes each day?

7: Do you set aside all distractions and devices during a conversation so that you can listen effectively?

If you answered yes to these questions, you have probably acquired some good listening skills. If you answered no, chances are you have some work to do.

Related: The Power of the Present Moment

If you’re interested in improving your listening skills, Janusik suggests making some adjustments to the behavioral side of your listening. This means using nonverbal cues — such as nodding and eye contact, as well as verbal cues — such as paraphrasing and asking questions to show that you are hearing what others have to say.

The better you are at listening, the more others will want to listen to you. Listening is one of the most under-recognized and yet most important of leadership skills.

“Conversation is a two-way process,” said Treasure. “Most great leaders are great listeners. It’s hard to inspire people if they don’t feel understood or listened to.”