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  • Writer's pictureRuss Hornfisher



Research has found the most successful sales people spend 75% or more of their time in front of customers listening and less than 25% talking. In contrast, people who have short careers in sales spend 90% or more of their time in front of the customer talking and less than 10% allowing the customer to speak. This only makes sense because we cannot learn while talking. Learning requires listening.

Those who talk the most usually have the least to say.

Who is the most interesting person you have ever met?


We all love to talk about ourselves.

At the start of the work day in just about every office, someone can be heard saying: “Let me tell you what happened to me on the way to work this morning” which is soon followed by: “That’s nothing, from a co-worker; wait till you hear what happened to me.” We love to talk about ourselves, because we are the most interesting person we know. We spend more time talking about ourselves than talking about anything else. It is for these reasons sincerely listening naively is difficult.

To listen, we have to put someone else’s needs ahead of ourselves. Setting our ego aside and turning our interest to another person is not easy. Listening is not passive activity; it’s actually a lot of work.

There are three levels of listening

· Not hearing

· Hearing but not listening

· Active listening

Active listening causes the heart rate to increase, respiration to increase, and blood pressure to rise. Active listening requires focusing our full attention on what someone else is saying. Active listening is so difficult most people can only do it for mere minutes at a time without lapsing into intermediate daydreams, or search for past experience or prepare a response. The average brain is capable of processing approximately 500 words per minute, yet the average person speaks at a rate of about 200 words per minute – leaving a lot of spare brain time (about 300 words per minute) to think about other things. It takes discipline to listen, because our spare brain time wants to think about other things. With the extra space, our brains wants to start thinking about what we are going to do this evening, or a phone call we need to return, or the coffee stain on the shirt of the person who is talking.

Even more important is learning to listen naively. Listening naively requires a commitment to listen without trying to formulate a response until the speaker has completed their thought. We all have prejudices and frames of reference from previous life experiences. Unfortunately, those experiences come into play with every communication experience in life. Becoming a naïve listener requires the discipline of not jumping to conclusions or finishing other’s sentences, which is difficult with 300 words per minute of unused brain space. It is very easy to hear a word or phrase, which then sends our brain spinning off thinking about something other than what the speaker is intending, which is when we sabotage the intent of the message.

The most important component of communications is listening.

Great listeners need to possess the ability to listen with an open mind if they hope to learn anything. Listening to another person’s full thought without jumping to conclusions is critical to effective communication. How often have you been in a conversation where the person you are speaking with finishes your sentences? This is not listening. To listen naively requires control of emotions. Reacting to preconceived emotions can cause us to begin formulating a response, rather than listening to full thoughts. When listening to another person, our natural human reaction is to respond quickly.

A magnificently presented question in which no one listens for an answer was just a waste of time and energy. Listening is an even more important skill than the ability to ask a well-structured, properly positioned question. Another trait possessed by great listeners is the ability to be patient. After asking a useful question, too often the askers get impatient while the potential responder formulates an answer. The questioner winds up answering their own question.

Answering your own question is insulting to the other person in the conversation. Not providing another person the time to formulate an answer and respond does not provide an opportunity to learn anything. After asking a challenging question a second of silences seems like five minutes and a minute of silence seems like an hour. The ability to wait patiently, quietly and confidently with sincere interest while another person contemplates their answer takes discipline and practice. While you sit quietly waiting for a response to your question, your brain now has 500 words per minute of unused brain space which is impatiently waiting to be used.

Tools to improving listening include

Asking questions = 15%

Taking notes = 20%

Reporting learned information back to others = 35%

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