Listen and Learn, Hear and Understand

If we would become better listeners, then the world would become a better place. Effective listening is a cornerstone of relationship – building  and relationships are the foundation of diplomacy.  The ability to listen effectively is a valuable leadership skill.

Listening is complex and contrary to popular perception it is active, not passive . Our ears and eyes, biases and fears, past experiences and hopes for the future all impact our interpretations of what is said to us.  We really do hear what we want to hear.

Active listening is a demonstration of empathy and respect . When we grant an opportunity to hear one who would like to share information, we validate  that person and the  story. Active, effective listening requires that we are fully present. Simultaneous engagement in multi-tasking activities is detrimental to the process.

In the September 1, 1957 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Ralph Nichols and Leonard Stevens interviewed more than 1000 college students and several hundred business executives and found that our listening skills are not stellar. We are largely unable to retain more than 50 % of what has been told to us, immediately after the telling.  Eight hours later, we will retain about 1/3 of what has been told to us.  Six months later and we retain merely 25 % of the story or information.

Nichols and Leonard revealed a main obstacle to listening—we think much faster than we speak. As we listen, or if we listen,  to information that is being delivered comparatively slowly, our busy brains are either coloring the story with our personal biases or agendas, or we’re thinking about something  else entirely.

They suggest that in order to bolster our listening skills, we might give our brains something to do that supports the activity:

1.  Take notes to improve recall of important points.

2.  Incorporate other senses, such as sight, and make note of body language and facial expressions. As well, note tone of voice and emotional state.

3.  Process the information as it is delivered and  try to make sense of it. Formulate questions and think about what was not said.

4.  Respond by first confirming that you correctly understand what has been said and then move on to other clarifying questions.

Thanks for reading,



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