Is Anybody Listening?

Jerry Scher

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Have you ever been frustrated because an employee didn’t follow directions? Have you ever had to redo a job or an order, at your expense, because a customer service representative or sales person misinterpreted your customer’s requirements? Have you ever had to referee a conflict between competing departments? Have you ever encountered any of these or similar situations? If so then you have dealt with the repercussions of ineffective communication. Have you ever stopped to calculate the precious hours or dollars that are wasted when people fail to communicate properly? The figures might overwhelm you!

The ability to communicate always tops the list of critical skills required to succeed. Every aspect of building a business or a team is reliant upon employees throughout your organization being able to communicate effectively with internal and external customers.

Throughout our educational experiences, we are taught to speak, read, and write. Unfortunately, very few people receive any formal training in the art of listening – the most critical of all communication skills.

Research indicates that during a manager’s typical day s/he spends more than 45 percent of the time listening. In fact, surveys have indicated that the most successful executives spend 50 to 60 percent of their day listening to others. Moreover, during a sales interaction, it is recommended that a sales professional spend 80 percent of the time listening to the customer. Now, think about your own experiences with salespeople. How many do you know who actually do that?


The simple fact is that ineffective listening behaviours such as pre-judging the speaker, completing someone’s sentences, assuming that you understand what the speaker is saying, interrupting, poor eye contact, and ignoring nonverbal messages are costing even small companies tens of thousands of dollars in lost profits.

Poor listening not only results in lower productivity and unplanned waste, but also has an immense negative emotional impact on your people. At a time when it is so difficult to find and keep productive employees, can we really afford to ignore the impact of the daily communication problems that exist in all our companies? As stated earlier, managers spend 45 percent of their time listening. And, research indicates that typical managers listen effectively only 25 percent of the time. They confuse listening and hearing. Listening should be active, not passive, involving a more sophisticated mental process. You must learn to listen with your eyes, ears, and heart.

People have a desperate need to be listened to. They want to be acknowledged by their peers and managers. In fact, you will earn the respect of your employees simply by taking the time to actively listen to them. How many times have you met with unhappy employees and quickly offered advice when all they really wanted was the opportunity to work through a problem and vent their emotions?

The fact of the matter is…if you want to be interesting, be interested. If you focus on listening rather than on speaking, you will become highly regarded. Most people love to talk about themselves. Therefore, if you are a good listener, you will be sought out. If you want to be received as a resource, demonstrate that you care by exercising positive listening behaviour. This trait can be particularly effective in sales situations. If you are not sure about the effectiveness of this, think about how it felt the last time someone really listened to you. Now think about the last time someone wouldn’t listen to you, or only listened half-heartedly.


Most of us find it difficult to listen to someone completely. In fact, it is not uncommon to finish another person’s statement, either verbally or mentally. Stop and think about how it feels when someone does this to you. One of the reasons for this behaviour is that we speak at 200 words per minute, but can listen at about 500 words per minute. And, when you get bored, your mind races or wanders.

In order to correct this communication deficiency, we must carefully concentrate on what the speaker is saying, and try to understand the underlying meaning. Ask clarifying questions or paraphrase to ensure your understanding of what is really being said. This process starts with a positive communication attitude. In other words, you have to care about the other person and what they are trying to communicate. When you care, people know it.


Many of us know what it takes to be a good listener; we just don’t implement what’s required. Think about the behaviour of those you know who listen well. Most likely they care about you and concentrate on what you are saying. They make eye contact and don’t pre-judge you; they are willing to accept your point of view even if they don’t agree with it.

When they don’t understand what you’ve said, they ask questions and even paraphrase your statement, giving you the opportunity to better articulate your message. Finally, they are willing to give you their time and stay focused on you, without becoming distracted.


Let’s take a look at three different types of listeners. Most of us listen at all three of these levels at different times. The type of listening behaviour we exhibit is usually dependent upon how we feel and to whom we are listening.

Active/Empathetic Listener Active, empathetic listeners pay close attention to verbal and nonverbal messages and remember what they hear. They make good eye contact and provide positive emotional feedback after listening – working at advancing relationships with people. They paraphrase and ask clarifying questions in an effort to accomplish two-way communication. (85-100 score on assessment)

Part-Time Listener Part-time listeners very often hear, but don’t listen. They don’t dig for the inner meaning of what is being said. They only partially concentrate on the speaker and become easily distracted. They give the appearance of listening – listening logically, but not emotionally. (60-84 on assessment)

Indifferent Listener Indifferent listeners are passive listeners. They believe that hearing and listening are the same. They have the tendency to pre-judge people and don’t try to understand the other person’s point of view. They would prefer to do most of if the talking and typically spend the rest of their time formulating their rebuttal rather that listening to what is being said. (0-59 on assessment)

If you’re uncertain into which category you fall, take the Listening Skills Quick Self Assessment. In less than five minutes, you’ll have your answer, and even insights into becoming a better listener. Certainly five minutes exceptionally well spent!


As business people, we have to be able to justify the time and money we invest in training our people. Fortunately, effective communications training is not costly, and your return on investment will likely be significant. The savings generated by reducing mistakes, improving employee teamwork, and increasing the number of satisfied customers can make the difference between successful and unsuccessful business.

An improvement in employee communications skills is a cost-effective, secret weapon that can help you gain a competitive advantage.

11 Keys to Improve Your Listening Behaviour

o Give the speaker your full attention.

o Maintain eye contact.

o Be aware of your own body language.

o Pay attention to nonverbal as well as verbal messages.

o Focus on understanding the message.

o Don’t be judgmental; respect the other person’s point of view.

o Don’t interrupt or finish the other person’s sentences.

o Be empathetic; try to understand the speaker’s feelings.

o Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the message.

o Take notes when appropriate.

o Paraphrase to confirm your understanding.

Click here to download a free copy of the Peak Focus Listening Skills Assessment.

About Jerry Scher

Jerry Scher - Founder and Principal at Peak Focus
Jerry’s known by many names -- business builder, executive, conference speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach, mentor. Regardless of the title, the end result is the same -- making people around him significantly more successful. His ability to diagnose business issues and effectively communicate appropriate solutions, that can be acted upon quickly, truly differentiates him.

About Peak Focus

Peak Focus is the only soft skills training, coaching and publishing group dedicated to helping select entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners create sustainable businesses.