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Len Horridge

Abstract: Almost everybody in our world needs to listen,

to gain information, to sense danger, to understand
others ... yet we are not very good at it. Maybe the
simple reason is that we were never taught to listen,
we were just told to do so.
Maybe, to be cynical, the modern world has so many
distractions that it is increasingly difficult to listen


There are three questions:

Why is listening so inaccurate?
How can we improve our listening?
Is it important?

Keywords: empathy, listen, understand

Listening is very important but it isnt that difficult.
Michael Moore, in his book Stupid White Men, said this:
Try listening. Heres how it works: when someone
else is talking, pay close attention to what they are say-
ing. Maintain eye contact. Do not interrupt. When he or
she is finished, pause and reflect on what was said. Try
Len Horridge, After University, saying nothing at all. Notice how what you have heard
Len worked at Philips and 3M before is stimulating thoughts, concepts, feelings and ideas in
joining a start-up consultancy and your head. This may lead to something brilliant. You
then left to form his own company, will then be able to take those ideas, claim them as yours
The Skills Exchange. Here, he is
involved in training and consultancy and become famous!
with specialism in interpersonal skills, It really is that simple.
such as communication, presentation, Two ears, one mouth. Use them in that ratio.
public speaking, time management, Why? Well, you will get information, you will find out
meetings, sales, management,
and so forth.
something new, and people will actually think you are
intelligent and like you because you listened to them.
And it will make you more informed.
Dale Carnegie researched powerful people in his
landmark book How to Win Friends and Influence People,
and he said this:
You can make more friends in two months by being
interested in them, than in two years by making them
interested in you. The only way to make quality, last-
ing friendships is to learn to be genuinely interested in
them and their interests.

Expert Insights 1

This book was broadly about people like Another test for you.
presidents of countries and corporations Which of the following applies to you?
who made massive impressions on the Lack of concentration (being easily dis-
world; most did so through a strong ethic tracted, looking at your tablet, for example,
of listening and using the information they or just zoning out)
had to move forward their country, their Mentally rehearsing your planned ques-
company, and themselves. tions (so not listening to what is actually
And, as a lovely by-product, you may being said)
make more friends and people will like you Interrupting people (which is impolite at
more. best and stops your listening to the en-
As once was said, you learn nothing tirety of a point)
from talking, except that maybe you should Hearing what we expect to hear and miss-
listen more. ing the point (surface-level listening or just
Its all about improving our communi- hearing what you want to hear)
cation. Defensive listening because we anticipate
Many assume that communication is a being challenged/attacked (a sign of a
one-way street but this is far from true. In passive style)
order for communication to be effective, Aggressive listening whereby we listen
the sender needs to be clear with the mes- only for those key remarks upon which
sage that they send and the receiver needs we can disagree (referred to as red flag
to listen attentively. Its the latter that is listening, which we cover later)
truly key to effective communication; if If you have nodded to any one of these,
both parties are only intent in getting their you may be a poor listener.
message across, this will soon become an Poor listeners show a tendency to be fo-
argument which is seldom constructive. cused on themselves and their own reply
Its also an assumption that because rather than the person speaking, where the
youre within earshot of a conversation that focus should be. Its known as empathetic
you must have heard it. Well, this may be listening, that is, being really interested in
true, but will you have necessarily listened what the other person is saying. And its
to it? Hearing requires about 25 percent of not hard to do.
our concentration, whereas listening re- In contrast to the empathic nature of
quires about 75 percent. good listening, poor listening includes such
It is estimated that 45 percent of all com- habits and behaviors as:
munication is spent listening; if this state- interrupting and finishing sentences
ment is true, then many of us probably waiting impatiently for your chance to
need to brush up on our listening skills. speak
But why dont we listen well? communicating with someone else in
the room
Are You a Good Listener? correcting or undermining what was said
People do say a qualified yes to this ques- reinterpreting what the speaker said in
tion but think again. Lets do a simple test. your own terms
Have you ever been watching the TV or telling them about your experience, mak-
listening to the radio or even listening to a ing theirs seem less important
friend and you just zone out? Of course having an answer for their problem b efore
you do, its a human trait. There is a reason theyve finished telling you what it is
for it, which we will cover later, but if you giving advice when it has not been asked for
have ever done this (hearing without listen- inappropriate level of eye contact (too
ing) then you can improve your listening much or too little)
skills. mismatching, and breaking rapport

2 Expert Insights

staying silent and giving no nonverbal Be aware of this; some people have very
signals short attention spans, others longer, but we
stopping listening because you assume are all open to this.
you know what the other person means/ Do not think of anything else; focus and
is going to say concentrate.
drifting off (or zoning out)
Do you recognize yourself in any of the Red Flag: If somebody says something you
above? disagree with or you have a view about, you
Then the bad news is that you are prob- may just stop listening, full-stop. Dont let
ably a poor listener. The good news is that your prejudices or views get in the way, keep
it doesnt take much to correct it. listening for the person may go on to have
And, to make you feel better, there are a different view longer term.
some very good reasons why we do not lis-
ten well. Open Ears, Closed Mind: Some people dont
listen because they dont want to. Thats fine
Why Dont We Listen? but this isnt listening actively.
Some people do listen well, but almost
everyone can improve their listening Too Deep For Me: Sometimes technical or
skills. highly complicated stuff can lead you to
Just think of the number of times in a glazing over but not being able to take things
day you say Sorry, can you repeat that? in. This happens.
or Pardon? as you have just plain zoned
out when somebody is speaking to you (or Pencil: Making notes can help you retain
when you have missed something). information, but dont let the focus of noting
Or even when you just switch-off men- everything down get in the way of actively
tally when watching TV or listening to the listening to what is being said. For example,
radio. stenographers in court (who only look for a
Why does this happen? Well, because we 92 percent accuracy in noting down court
are human and because we havent ever proceedings) cant really listen and write.
been taught to listen. They will be able to read back what has gone
There are some good reasons. on but their concentration is so focused on
capturing the information that they will
Barriers normally not process what has been said as
real listening. (But, wow! They are good at
OnOff: Our brain has a great capacity to their job!)
take in information, but the average person
only talks at around 125 words per minute. Hubbub: Sometimes, its too noisy to really
Our brain uses the spare capacity to think of hear what is being said. And how do you
other things and often distract ourselves, so listen better then? You lip read. And thats
we can zone out when somebody is talking a great idea, as it looks as though you are
to us. We hear but we dont listen. having good eye contact and it makes you
This happens all the time. People just concentrate more.
drift; think about what they will be doing
tonight, what they would like to eat, or the What am I going to say next?: See some of the
things they have to do; or be distracted by comments above; dont think of what you
their tablet or something that catches their are going to say; instead, focus on what the
eye, anything, really. other person is saying, listen carefully, see
Its natural but it is not listening (and can if you can summarize and ask this back as a
be very impolite). question (So, what you are saying . . .?), and

Expert Insights 3