7 tips to improve your listening skills – Business Etiquette

July 24, 2013 in Etiquette Tips, Home


Did you know that 70% of what individuals hear is misunderstood or misinterpreted? The reason for this is that few of us have been taught to listen. Schools focus on teaching reading, writing and speaking. This is ironic as we spend 45% of our days listening.


“Listening is a learned skill that usually comes from the school of hard knocks.”  – Unknown

Communication is often ineffective because:

  • People listen to 25% of the content of what is being said
  • You recall 50% of what you hear when you actually listen
  • 70% of misunderstandings occur because people do not listen to each other

Hearing vs listening.

Hearing is the physical ability to transmit sound waves from eardrum to the brain. Listening is being attuned to sound. Listening is an active, versus a passive, process. The average person speaks about 150 – 200 words per minute, while your brain processes about 650 words per minute. This explains why your thoughts wander and why we need to make the effort to listen actively.

Identify your Preferred Listening Interrupters (PLI’s):

To actively listen you must be aware to what blocks your listening. By becoming aware of your PLI’s you will be able to focus on the person talking and listen 100%.

Some PLI’s are:

  • the environment i.e. background noise, physical comfort, speaker’s communication style and interruptions
  • your opinions i.e. past experiences, prejudices, preparing a response and personal agendas
  • your physical / mental state i.e. time of day, lack of sleep, multiple track syndrome, and time pressures

Here are 8 tips to help you improve your listening skills:

1. Reflect back the speaker’s feelings and demonstrate empathy – “ Thuli, I am sensing you are upset because you didn’t get promoted.”

2. Clarify by asking questions – “ Kobus, when you say Martie was unprofessional, what exactly do you mean?”

3. Remain silent – pause before responding and avoid interrupting the speaker. This encourages the speaker to give more information.

4. Summarise what has been said to ensure even better understanding.

5. Focus on the speaker physically by taking notes and giving non-verbal cues and mentally by focusing on the emotions behind the words.

6. Practice patience – slow your internal voice.

7. Keep an open-mind – learn new information and “walk a mile in another man’s shoes”.

“ God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Some people say that’s because he wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. Others claim it’s because he knew listening was twice as hard as talking.”

– Unknown

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