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90% of People Are Poor Listeners. Are You the Remaining 10%?

90% of People Are Poor Listeners. Are You the Remaining 10%?

So, if we show you two photos, one of Miley Cyrus and the other of Justin Bieber, two celebrities who are remarkably and androgynously alike, you would be able to tell who is who and make a correct identification, right? Now if only life was so easy that it let you spot the good egg, from the bad one – be it as a partner, a friend or even the choice of a job or a house.

Basically, life offers us many challenges and while it’s relatively easy to pass judgment on others, we very often err while self-introspecting. Most of us don’t consider listening as big an art as talking and because of this, a lot of us would call ourselves good listeners. But is that really true? Are we good listeners at all?

Identifying Good Listening vs. Bad Listening

So, do you think that you are a good listener? Well then, let’s check these identifying mannerisms of good listening vs. bad listening and check where we all can stand to improve…

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Hidden Meaning vs. Literal Meaning

A lot of communication lies in the tone and emotional cues, as well as the body language of the talker – and not just the words. To be an effective listener, you need to take in the literal meaning of course, but also read in between the lines. Listen for the tone, for the emotion in the voice, and look for the non-verbal cues as well. Empathize with the talker, find common points and ask questions if you need answers.[1]

Understanding vs. Gaining Information

We may often listen to get answers to a question. But effective listening goes hand in hand with understanding, and not just with the intent of gaining information. Many times, when we ask pointed questions, we skim-listen to the reply but don’t really understand the situation and stop listening after we think we have got the answer. You may look as if you are attentive and getting in every word but frankly your mind is wandering and you’re not really in the situation at all…[2]

Asking for Clarifications vs. Making Assumptions

Good listening means that you ask questions when you have a doubt, and not make any assumptions about the issues. Don’t let your thoughts or doubts come into the picture, and don’t let any of that color the current conversation. Clarify, once, twice or thrice even if you have to, to make sure all your doubts are cleared by the correct person and not just by your presumptions.[3]

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Listening to Digest vs. Listening to Respond

So many times it happens that we listen to something, only to be able to respond to it. Rather, while the other person is still talking – we stop listening and begin to formulate our reply – and often miss so much of what we were supposed to listen to, process and understand. Stephen R Covey right said, “Most people listen with the intent to respond, not with the intent to understand.” If your mind is moving ahead to the response and not listening, well, you lose out.[4]

Letting the Speaker Finish vs. Interrupting the Speaker

We may not always agree with what is being said, and may even have valid counterpoints – but all of us need to have the manners and the patience to let the talker finish first. Interrupting the talker, speaking out of turn and just generally being ill-mannered will make you miss out on listening and understanding the point being made as well as disturb the rest of the audience’s listening. Let the speaker finish, and then politely intercede to make your point.[5]

Boldly Agree To Disagree vs. Bow Down To Authority

Conversely, not speaking up when you strongly feel different will also go against effective listening. Listening to it not just hearing – it’s about hearing, then understanding and processing the thing you have heard, and finally forming an opinion about it. If you have patiently listened to and understood all that was being said and have a very strong point or interjection to make – you must speak up. Bowing down to authority at this point will make you harbor a lingering resentment towards yourself, yet again making you miss the rest of the talk or conversation since your emotions come into play. Once the speaker has finished, stand up and make your point boldly – you many agree to disagree at the end but at least you have said your piece.[6]

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Consistently Listen to One Topic Vs. Getting Bored Too Easily

As much as it is good for a speaker to be able to talk about one topic consistently and interestingly, it is even better for a listener to be able to listen about the same topic with full concentration. Only if you listen to what is being said with full concentration will you be able to glean the gist of it all.[7]

Listening With an Open Mind vs. Listening With Too Firm a Belief

To listen and listen well, you have to have an open mind to what is being said, even if it is going against your core beliefs. Like we mentioned above, you can choose to hear out the speaker patiently and then speak up or counter-argue the point you cannot digest – but at least listen with an open mind. You might end up learning something new after all.[8]

Listening With Fair Balance & Empathy vs. Listening Judgmentally

We very often tend to view the world with colored glasses – often shaded in hues of our beliefs, prejudices, and resentments. When we are listening to someone, we should listen not only with an open mind but also an open heart and keep our judgments and belief system aside. Do not start taking what is being said as an affront or insult – the person who is talking has a right to his own beliefs. Listen fairly, let the person finish and then if you want, you can choose to make your own point – without trash talking the speaker in turn.[9]

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Show Interest in the Speaker vs. Appear Bored & Tired of the Speaker

The person addressing the audience – be they experienced talkers or newbies – has a certain set of trepidation and wants to make sure that the audience is interested in what they have to say. If you appear bored, listless and distracted while they are talking – you are not only reducing their morale but also curbing their speaking enthusiasm and affecting your own listening skills as well. Be active, be alert and be interested in what they are saying to get the best out of them and your listening skills as well.[10]

Paying Attention to Key Meaning vs. Missing the Meaning of It All

Many people hear everything sometimes, but miss the meaning of it all but not paying attention to the key points, being too busy analyzing every little thing, formulating their own replies, getting blinded by the speaker’s charm, making notes etc… There will be times the speaker will verbally or physical emphasize a few things – pay attention to the meaning behind it all instead of focusing on the decoration…[11]

Making Sure the Understanding is Correct vs. Letting Confusion Mar the Listening

Finally, as we have been stressing – the difference between hearing and listening lies in the understanding of things. Make sure you have grasped everything that is being said, raise your hand and ask pointed questions if need be and only then move on to the next point. Hearing everything and understanding only a little means your listening wasn’t up to the mark at all.[12]

So pay attention to what is being said and concentrate on the meaning of the words instead of just hearing them – switch off those phones and keep micro-conversations at bay. Hear and understand for effective listening…

Reference

[1] TCB Devito: Communication Strategies
[2] Huffington Post: Are You Listening Or Just Reloading
[3] Facebook: Positivity Vibrations
[4] Business2Community: How to Truly Listen to Someone, Instead of Listening to Respond
[5] Info Please: Speaking & Listening Skills
[6] Forbes: 10 Ways To Brave Up & Speak Up
[7] Stack Exchange: How To Avoid Mind Drifting While Listening
[8] Boundless: Be An Open Minded Listener
[9] Lolly Daskal: The Heart of Listening
[10] Magnolia Etiquette: Show Respect to the Speaker
[11] Boundless: Components of a Speech
[12] Key Differences: Differences Between Hearing & Listening

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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