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The sound of silence

A verse in one of the most popular songs of the 20th century goes like this:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

You’ll know the song and the chances are that you are singing it inside your head right now. It’s a song about the inability of people to communicate with each other and when I heard it on the radio recently it reminded me how important it is to be a really good listener.

What did you say?

Do you find yourself getting frustrated because people around you aren’t listening, or you seem to be repeating everything you say over and over and over again.

The interesting point, is that this situation is not too dissimilar to many conversations we have with managers in organisations we work with everyday. So much so that we created an “Active Listening” module to cover just that.

It is not uncommon for us to hear managers talk about their struggle to get their manager to actively listen and hear what they are saying or asking for, rather than always talk instructions and direct at them. We also hear their frustration when they describe how team members  just don’t “listen” to each other.  They simply glaze over and seem disinterested and the team is ineffective.

Listening is an under estimated part of communication.  When you carefully listen to others, you impress them in ways that talking can never accomplish.  You are letting the person know you care and appreciate what they have to say.  How often do you hear someone say, “You are listening to me too intently.  You are valuing what I say too much.”  I haven’t heard of many managers with this complaint and I doubt that you have.

One of the best ways to begin to improve your listening skills is to have a better understanding of some of the most common behaviours you demonstrate when not listening effectively. Here are a couple of examples of the most common blockers we hear about.


Where you are the great problem solver.  You only have to hear a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice that you feel you must share immediately.  However, while you are coming up with the suggestions and convincing someone to just try it, you are missing what is most important.


Where you negatively label people , which can be extremely limiting.  If you prejudge somebody as incompetent or uninformed, you don’t pay much attention to what that person is saying.  A basic rule of listening is that judgments should only be made after you have heard and evaluated the content of the message.

The key to becoming an effective listener is to be aware of your blockers and when and why you use them. As with any new skill, the first step to improvement is to have a good understanding of what you can do or stop doing in order to get better.  The second step is often the most difficult and that is the requirement that you practice the skill over and over.  Listening is no different but the effort will be worth it because being an effective listener is the most fundamental and powerful communication tool of all.


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