The Listener Wins
By Michael Purdy
A crazy thing about communication in American society is the strange power of the listener. A song isn’t good unless the listener says it is good; audiences determine music’s
success. However, it is equally true that we aren’t serious listeners until
we have educated our ears. If we don’t critically train our listening tastes,
we could be a mindless consumer of whatever the music industry pushes our way with big ad budgets and slick promotions.
As in music, good listening
counts in business. Donald Carstensen, vice-president for educational services
at ACT, surveyed a group of business leaders about the skills businesses are looking for in new hires. Seventy-three percent rated listening an “extremely important skill”. When Carstensen asked business leaders the percentage of high school grads with good listening skills,
the result was only 19 percent.
Other studies over the
past few decades indicate that business leaders consistently rank listening among the five top skills they expect employers
to have. Naturally, listening is critical in the business world where a mistake
can cost thousands or millions of dollars, or listening to a customer or employee can make a product better and increase the
Good and Poor
What are the characteristics
of good and poor listeners? A study conducted of 900 college and military students ages 17 to 70 in the late ‘90s showed
the following traits of good and poor listeners (in order of importance).
1. Uses eye contact appropriately.
2. Is attentive and alert to a speaker’s
verbal and nonverbal behavior.
3. Is patient and doesn’t interrupt
(waits for the speaker to finish).
4. Is responsive, using verbal and
5. Asks questions in a nonthreatening
6. Paraphrases, restates or summarizes
what the speaker says.
7. Provides constructive (verbal and
8. Is empathic (works to understand
9. Shows interest in the speaker as
10. Demonstrates a caring attitude and is willing to listen.
11. Doesn’t criticize, is nonjudgmental.
12. Is open-minded.
A poor listener:
1. Interrupts the speaker (is impatient).
2. Doesn’t give eye contact
3. Is distracted (fidgeting) and does
not pay attention to the speaker.
4. Is not interested in the speaker
(doesn’t care; daydreaming).
5. Gives the speaker little or no
(verbal or nonverbal) feedback.
6. Changes the subject.
7. Is judgmental.
8. Is close-minded.
9. Talks too much.
10. Is self-preoccupied.
11. Gives unwanted advice.
12. Too busy to listen.
Similar studies done over
the last two decades by Fortune 500 trainers and business consultants have found similar results.
On the way up the career
ladder, your listening skills should improve. Hourly employees may spend 30 percent
of their time listening, while managers often spend 60 percent, executives 75 percent or more.
Does effective listening lead to promotion, or do higher-ups learn to listen better because they must? It is probably a combination. Essentially, to be more successful,
you must be a better listener. Better listening is active listening.
To be an active listener,
you must begin with awareness. When do others get angry with you for poor communication? When do you have problems communicating? How
were you listening at these times? It takes courage, but ask others what you
could do to become a better listener. Others see our faults much better than
we do. Learn about effective listening skills: read books or visit the International
Listening Association's Web site for tips. Then be sure to practice what you learn.
be a successful listener, you must also believe that listening is power. Because our society places so much emphasis on speaking
as the way to win friends and influence people, good listeners can quietly have a powerful and subversive impact. You should
also remember that speakers have little power without listeners. Speakers share their wisdom and try to persuade, but listeners
make meaning of what is heard – they make the ultimate decision to act on what they hear.