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Friendly, Active Listening

Asking people if they are good listeners is like asking them if they are good drivers. You likely have heard the statistics where over 90% of drivers believe they are good drivers. You who drive know for certain that lots of them are lying, whether they intend to or not.

My experience is that over 50% are good drivers, 25% are fair drivers and a full 25% are dangerous drivers. However, 90% of truck drivers really are good drivers, because they know they need to be to keep their jobs, their lives and protect the lives of others.

Just like having a car and knowing how to make it work doesn’t make you a good driver, having ears and knowing how to hear does not make you a good listener.

Here’s a reality check: When was the last time someone complimented you on your listening skills? Nothing is more valuable in business than good information. Those who get the best information are friendly, active listeners.

Friendly, active listening is hard work. It takes practiced patience since people speak at the rate of between 120-150 words a minute and process information three times as fast as they speak, or 320-450 words a minute. Listeners think at the rate of 850-1200 words per minute.

That means friendly, active listeners use that extra time to interpret the message and hold or note in writing important points and ideas. However, your fast thinking can also lead to unproductive out-listening. This is when our minds take side trips into work, family, and leisure thoughts unrelated to the active communication taking place. Too often when listeners out-listen, they don’t come back in quickly enough to be up to speed with what is going on–effectively getting caught with their ears down.

What’s friendly listening? You are easy to talk with. People feel you really want to understand by your eye-contact, body language and appropriate silence. You maintain objectivity when discussing ideas and suggestions. Communication moves forward in a relaxed way. Even when things go wrong, people feel you want to make things right, are willing to work with them to make that happen.

What’s active listening? You are 100% in the moment when you are listening. You show others respect and look for value in what they are saying. You are willing to hear them out. They can see your 100% attention, hear no unnecessary interruptions form you, and see no bored or impatient body language. By the time you begin to ask positive questions to clarify your understanding, they feel they have been heard.

What about telephone and electronic communicating? How does calling, E-mailing, texting, and other messaging impact your ability to be a friendly, active listener? A full 82% of your message over the telephone is communicated from the sound of your voice and only 18% of your message comes from the actual words you say. This is what happens when you get 82-18’d, know you said something clearly, but the person you said it to got a totally different message.

We have already visited electronic communications this year, but the jury is already in that electronic communications are the least-friendly, most impersonal communications. And anyone can say, they never got your message, and maybe they didn’t.

Here’s a warning–be careful about following suit when you are in the company of one or more bad listeners. Water seeks its lowest level. I’ve been there darn near drowning before I could catch myself and practice what I know when people are jumping all over my words, shouting over them, rolling their eyes and exhibiting non-listening body language. In person, they avert their eyes, cross their arms, tap their fingers or feet, start shuffling papers. Over the telephone, you can hear them tapping away on their keyboards, shuffling papers, eating, speaking with others and doing other unspeakable things. (Let your imaginations run wild!)

Truth is, you didn’t need me to mention these things, you know when someone is actively listening to you and when they are just waiting to talk, or not even politely waiting. So what do you do?

When someone isn’t really listening to you, continuing to talk is not a plan. Do you keep trying to fill a tire when you see or hear there is a hole in it? Like the tire, to solve the problem, you need to take action to fix it. So, take a breath and call them on their behavior in a friendly way with “I” messages:

Are you thinking, Wait a minute! I’m the boss. They have to listen to me! As the boss, your statements to call out non-listening behavior can be stronger:

We spoke earlier about friendly, active listening, what about hostile listening? You or others are disagreeing with each other. You or others listen like lasers in the beginning of a conversation motivated to debunk what is being said. You or others are impatient, can’t be quiet while others are speaking. You or others take the floor like winners in a war and won’t give it up. Questions and statements aim to make others look bad.

Here’s a reality check: When was the last time someone accused you of not listening?

Here’s the final check: Are you a friendly, active or a hostile listener most of the time?

Avoid being hard on yourself if you see more of yourself in the hostile group. Ninety percent of people are poor listeners. Without using friendly, active listening skills, you hear less than 50% of what is said, understand less than 25%, believe less than 10%, and remember less than 5%.

Are you beginning to understand why successful communication is so hard to achieve? Can you see where skilled listening is as important as skilled speaking?

Like any skill, listening can be learned and takes continued practice to remain good at it. Anyone can motivate themselves to do friendly, active listening. The more friendly, active listening you do, the better information you will get and you will improve your relations with everyone. Everyone wants to be heard and understood when they speak, whether it is in person, over the telephone or in electronic communications. Are you any different?

How do you make others feel heard and understood? You put your friendly, active listening spotlight on another person and they get the rare gift of understanding they will treasure and remember.

How do you do that? You allow people the grace to speak their minds without getting in the way. You are patient enough to remain silent long enough to give them a wide berth to make themselves clear. You really care about helping them give you the message they want you to receive. Your listening is active, focused and friendly.

Friendly, active listening is efficiently focused on getting the full message being communicated, along with what could be between the lines and the presence of hidden agendas. Your hard work gives you an advantage. You tend to be more objective. People you might dismiss can give you good ideas if you give them a fair hearing. Objectivity enables you to listen for ideas, keep personal dislikes out of the way of the message, and gather the best nuggets of communications–information you can use to increase productivity and/or earn more profit.

Here’s the mantra I keep telling myself:  Those who can, listen (and learn); those who can’t, talk.

Have questions? Give me a call.

© 2011 Electric Envisions, Inc.
Barbara Garro, MA, CPCU is a Motivational Writer & Coach, Speaker, author of Grow Yourself  a Life You’ll Love and From Jesus to Heaven with Love: A Parable Pilgrimage. Contact:  518-587-9999,

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