We’re losing our ability to listen. This potential crisis threatens our relationships with our customers, organizations, families and entire nations. Here’s what we can do about it.
The art of listening is under attack.
This skill, among the most important we as humans possess, is getting drowned out from all sides: Increasing noise levels, myriad distractions, shorter attention spans and more people who just want to hear themselves talk.
It would almost be comical if it weren’t so serious. Indeed, wars have been waged, business deals destroyed and relationships ruined simply because the parties didn’t listen to each other.
Noted speaker, author and sound expert Julian Treasure sounded the alarm back in 2011 in an insightful TED talk, and there’s no reason to believe things have gotten better since.
According to the studies Treasure cites, we spend about 60% of our communication time listening, but we retain only about 25% of what we hear.
A Crisis in Our Companies… And Beyond
Our woeful ability to listen borders on crisis because listening is our access to understanding. I shudder to think what would happen to our organizations if we lose this integral part of the conversation process. From the executive suite on down, decisions would get made without the benefit of fully understanding an issue. Lacking the ability to clearly understand customers’ needs, wants and pains, our salespeople wouldn’t be able to sell, cross-sell or upsell our products.
The crisis-in-the-making is particularly worrisome on those front-line areas where listening intently to our customers is vital, like in our contact centers. It’s human nature to want to hear ourselves talk, but few if any customers dial into our contact centers for that reason. They call because the issue they’re experiencing is unique to them and requires the intervention only a human can provide. They want someone to listen intently and resolve their issue, preferably as quickly as possible.
Unable to understand customers’ issues, our contact centers would fail to provide vital information and advice, leaving plenty of dissatisfied customers in our wake. We can’t afford for that to happen.
Of course, the benefits of listening extend far beyond the four walls of our organization, and touch every corner of society. Maintaining harmony within our families calls for it. Preserving civility in our communities depends on understanding what others are saying. And, globally, peace among nations requires careful listening, diplomacy and compromise.
Listen Up! Here’s What We Can Do
The art of listening may be in steep decline, but we have the power to salvage this vital skill.
A good start is to realize that even though we’ve been doing it since shortly before we were born, listening is a skill we nevertheless need to develop. Just as being a good speaker, conversationalist or writer takes effort, so does being an outstanding listener.
As for developing good listening skills, I’ll let Treasure take it from there. His TED talk provides simple exercises for resetting our ears so we’re primed and ready to listen, filtering out distracting noise and interruptions and getting in the best position to listen intently.
He also outlines an effective strategy for listening – which he sums up with the acronym RASA – which includes the way that we receive information, show that we appreciate what we’re hearing, summarize what has been said and ask questions afterwards.
The talk is well worth a mere seven minutes of our time. With the lessons it provides, let’s begin restoring the art of listening to its rightful place.