Michelle Skinner

We were given two ears but only one mouth (Metcalf 1997). This is because listening is twice as hard as talking. Effective listening involves more than merely hearing what another person is saying, and listening errors result in misunderstandings, missed business opportunities, and wasted time and money. To gather the full meaning of what someone is saying requires active listening. That is why it is important to learn how to become an effective listener.


Most people are convinced they're good listeners. While they may hear what others say, however, they're not truly listening. Effective listening is something that we all do with varying degrees of success-a skill we all tend to take for granted. Nevertheless, it's a skill we can enhance to make ourselves more effective listeners (Reiss 1994).


When to listen: Most people talk too much. We all love the sound of our own voices. So we talk. And when we pause to ask, "What do you think?" we know the answer in our minds before it's spoken. Our minds race. While the other person is talking, we're thinking about what we want to say next and we miss half of the their response.


All of us give selective attention to people and activities around us. How we select what we listen to and how we absorb information is typically done without forethought. Most people run on autopilot, making automatic gestures and responses to those around us. A vacant "Have a nice day" may be acceptable to the clerk at a convenience store, but that depth of conversation will not work if you're actively trying to involve your prospect (Metcalf 1997).

The following ideas will help you to become more conscious of how you communicate, to overcome negative habits that interfere with your relationships, and to become more proficient at remembering what you hear (Brody 1994).


First, be aware of conditions that may impede your listening ability Failure to concentrate may cause a misunderstanding of what someone is trying to get across.


Working in familiar surroundings: When the environment is safe and comfortable for you, there's a natural tendency to relax and become careless. Working in an unfamiliar setting tends to heighten your senses.


Interruptions: Any sort of interruption tends to break the listening process. External interruptions (i.e., telephone, another person coming into the room) are sometimes unavoidable. You must do what you can to minimize them, and above all, not contribute to them. Hold you're talking to a minimum-let others talk and interrupt only to ask for clarification.


Automatic gestures: How many times do you forget something someone told you because you put the conversation on autopilot? The analogy is forgetting where you left the car keys. You put them down, but you don't consciously and specifically remember where you placed them because you weren't consciously focusing on that task when you did it (Carey 1996). Focus your mind on the other person's words.

Talking too much: If you do, you're not alone. But it's extremely difficult to match your products with the client's needs if you don't listen to what those needs are. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Let someone else do most of the talking.


Failed expectations: The flow of a conversation may not follow the direction you planned. Don't stop listening just because someone isn't saying what you expected to hear (Brody 1994). What their saying may be more important than what you thought you would hear.


Preoccupation: If you're worried about getting to your next call, doing an errand you forgot to handle this morning, or any other task you forgot to do, you'll not hear what your someone else is saying.


Make Listening a Multisensory Activity (Brock 1995)

Much of the information we hear committed to short term memory but forgotten before we have the chance to record it, either on paper or in long-term memory(Brock 1995). If you listen proactively you'll retain much more information. Hearing is reflexive and passive; listening is conscious and active.


We absorb information best by using multiple senses. Make your impressions visual, verbal and auditory. A study done at the University of Texas found that people remember (Metcalf 1997):

10 percent of what they read;

20 percent of what they hear;

30 percent of what they see;

50 percent of what they see and hear;

70 percent of what they say; and

90 percent of what they do and say


While modern research may have provided this statistical analysis, the basic principle has been known for centuries. In the fifth century B.C., Confucius wrote, "What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand." (Brody 1994)


Try these exercises to improve your ability to listen(Carey 1996): Relax. When people get tense or under stress they lose their ability to concentrate. Practice techniques to help you to relax.


Be aware of listening speed differentials. People speak at different speeds, an obvious fact dictated both by culture and by the setting. In general, people are capable of listening at a much faster rate that most people speak. The implication is that we have "excess listening capacity." Since our minds are not fully active, they're naturally inclined to wander. How they wander depends on you and the context of the conversation. By understanding that you process information more quickly than someone else can speak, you can deliberately force yourself to focus and listen (Reiss1994).


Pause. Collect your thoughts. Focus on the person you're listening to. Block out distractions. Whether it's a telephone ringing or the sound of construction in the next room, make a mental note of them and mentally-consciously and deliberately-block them out.


Visualize. Remember key words and concepts by visualizing them. Write them down immediately if you can. If you can't, make a mental image of what the prospect is saying and write the idea down later.


Verbalize. As you listen, ask for clarification. "Let me see if I got this right. You're saying.. ." By repeating what the prospect says you reinforce it in your mind and clarify that what you heard is, in fact, what he said (Brock 1995).


Here are 10 steps to follow to be an effective listener, look at them like the Ten Commandments of listening.

    1. Stop talking
    2. Put the speaker at ease
    3. Show you want to listen
    4. Remove distractions
    5. Empathize
    6. Be patient
    7. Hold your temper
    8. Go easy on argument and criticism
    9. Ask questions
    10. Stop talking!!!


If you learn to truly listen to what someone else is saying and not just hear what they say, you'll be better able to serve their needs. You'll be positioning yourself as a center of influence in their lives to provide yourself and them with a win-win solution. So remember we were given two ears but only one mouth.




Brock, S, (1995) What, I Can't Hear, Newsweek, 104(25) p23-24

Brody, M. (1994) Listen up! Do you really hear what people are saying?, The American, 39(6) p14

Carey, C. (1996) Listening Is A Skill, Hayward Publishing, New York, N.Y.

Metcalf, T. (1997) Listening to your clients, Life Association News, 92(7) p16 - 18

Reiss, R.(1994) Listen up!, Incentive, 168(11) p102



This page was written and created by the aforementioned student, who was enrolled in a business course at the University of St. Francis. The content of this page is the work and opinion of the author, not the faculty or staff of the University of St. Francis. Neither the University nor its employees are responsible for the content of this web page.

General questions regarding these web page assignment can be directed to Gerard Kickul.