Listening for the Total Message

UPDATED: March 27, 2008
PUBLISHED: March 27, 2008

Did you know that you can think faster than anyone can talk? Most people speak at approximately 125 words per minute, but you can easily think at the rate of 400-600 words per minute. This continuous stream of thought often hinders listening. Therefore, when you ask a question, listen attentively to the answer. Listen for the total message. Listen to the words themselves, to the manner of delivery, and to what is not said.

Ten percent of communication comes through words, 30 percent by sounds, and 60 percent by body language. Observe and evaluate body language, emotion, attitudes, and any other apparent external or internal factor that helps you understand the total message. Here are several helpful suggestions:

Avoid selective listening – hearing only what pleases you or fits into preconceived ideas. Listen with an open mind and resist any tendency to overreact. Control nonverbal behavior; maintain comfortable eye contact, and pay close attention to let others know you care about what they have to say.

Learn to be silent. Give the other person time to finish before you jump in with new thoughts of your own. Your silence is an opportunity to listen not only for words and ideas, but for feelings. Silence encourages those who are speaking to elaborate.

Use reflective responses to communicate your attentiveness. A reflective response either repeats key words or summarizes what you think the speaker was saying. For example, you might say: "You said we have been running out of supplies regularly. What are your suggestions to keep this from happening in the future?" A reflective response proves you have been listening and encourages further elaboration and clarification.

Acknowledge the message. Remain noncommittal while listening. This gives you opportunity to gain new information or to find out what the person is really thinking. Effective listening is worth the time it takes to refine and polish. Listening multiplies the value of the information you receive. You can also gain a reputa-tion for courtesy and concern – positive traits for success.

Ten percent of communication comes through words, 30 percent by sounds, and 60 percent by body language.