According to a study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, just 7% of what is said, is through words. That means that 93% of what we hear is not through the words we hear. Steven R. Covey says that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” With these two things in mind, it is no wonder why we have breakdowns in communication. First, if we are developing our response to what is being said, while only partially listening to something that is only 7% of what is being said, how can we gain insight and understanding from one another, communicate effectively, and problem solve? If we only listen to 7%, how can we form opinions and make decisions?
“The word LISTEN contains the same letters as the word SILENT,” Alfred Brendel. When we fail to become quiet, we fail to hear. Listening increases thinking skills; as when you listen you are processing what is being said, and not just the 7% from the words spoken. We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening. Winston Churchill stated, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” The art of actively listening enables us to fully assess what is being said, through voice inflection, facial expression, body language, and other non-verbal cues.
“Listening is a positive act; you have to put yourself out to do it,” David Hockney. Although uncomfortable, if you are not used to actively listening, the value of listening is immeasurable. Listening engages your mind by connecting you with the thoughts and ideas of others. True, there may be some that are so close minded, opinionated, or full of themselves that you would rather not be connected, but there is always something to learn from every engagement of listening. Just because someone is opinionated does not mean that you took nothing away from the conversation. You most certainly realize and come to appreciate an informed and open mind. What is really important is what that person didn’t say- this is the golden nugget in active listening.
Sometimes people just need to vent or talk through a frustration or situation. When you are the listener it is your job to listen, and to do so you must be present. Being present means that you are not clicking your pen, multi-tasking on ‘brain-less’ activities, or thinking about what you are going to say. Being present means, just that, your role is sitting in the front of the class, intently hearing, sensing, and seeing what is being said. A wise person once said that a man with an empty stomach is a poor listener. This person is so self-absorbed with their own agenda (a rumbling stomach), that they are not present.
Pick up on the visual cues. Is this person visibly upset? Are they confused? Excited? The only true way to know is to be present and pay attention with all of your senses so that you can ascertain what is really going on. This means that you should maintain good eye contact, assume a posture that shows you are intently listening, and put yourself in their shoes- how do you think they feel? This will give you a greater understanding of the 93% of the conversation that you are missing from their words.
Finally, when the speaker breaks and it is your turn, don’t rush in. Ask that you understand correctly. This gives the speaker an additional opportunity to clarify what they were saying and give you adequate information to respond. You have so much to listen to between the words, tone of speech, and visual cues that it is best to know that you fully understand. So often we are so quick to offer advice, defend our actions, or jump on the other’s bandwagon that we shortchange our critical thinking. This is like completing a mid-term paper without reading the instructions. You may complete the paper but you missed the critical elements. We need to slow down to think. When we are present and asking clarifying questions, this engages our thinking and gives us clarity.
The biggest mistake that humans make: listening half, understanding quarter, and telling double. Becoming a better thinker requires becoming a better listener; for we can ask why all day long, but if we aren’t listening to the answer, than what was the purpose of the question? Becoming an effective thinker by actively listening can be summed up in the following:
Jolene is a communication trainer for Toastmaster’s International, professional speaker, success coach, and author of two books: Thinking 101: Fundamentals of a Successful Mindset and It! Happens: A Practical Guide to Finding Your ‘It’. Jolene is practitioner of mindfulness for balance, excellence, and a successful mindset.
Jolene holds Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership and is a certified master success coach. Jolene's writing is continually inspired by the challenges that her clients are facing. She finds constant inspiration in the world around her and is profoundly honored to be living her purpose helping others turn impossible into possible.