Hearing vs. Listening

“Our Work, our relationships, our very lives succeed and fail…one conversation at a time” Susan Scott

Listening lies at the heart of just about everything we do with people. The average person spends 50% or more time listening. We have all experienced the situation where someone is talking and you are responding appropriately “uh-huh” and “yes” but when that person is done speaking you have no idea what they said. You were hearing but not listening, and you are not alone, we have all done it.

When listening is ineffective, meaningful conversation is unlikely and poor listening can be costly. Active listening is an ability that must be learned and practiced daily.

Five basic interpersonal communication skills:

  1. Listening
  2. Talking
  3. Influencing
  4. Solving problems cooperatively
  5. Resolving Conflict

Active listening is an essential part of conflict resolution and problem-solving. Researcher, Eastwood Atwater said “Of all the communication skills, listening is the earliest learned and the most frequently used. Yet it is the least taught and the least mastered…” One of the greatest challenges we face with listening is trying to multitask. Are you guilty of scrolling through social media when someone is speaking to you? How about flipping through papers, responding to a text message, or reading emails?  When we don’t listen actively, we lose empathy.

Ineffective listening in the workplace causes lower morale, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity. Effective Listening is crucial to business success. Sam Walton, founder of Walmart said “The secret to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates say.”

Recently I watched a few episodes of Undercover Boss. CEO from Hooters and 7-11 went undercover in their stores, as they performed entry-level jobs, the listened to the employees, and learned a lot about their organization. The biggest take away from Undercover Boss is not that the high-power CEO’s of major companies go undercover, it is that they learned a lot about their own company by listening to the front-line workers. Whether you are the manager, owner, or salesperson the link to being successful is good listening.

The CEO of General Electric said. “Listening is a skill a demands constant attention and constant practice… through good listening, we can gather the information we need to do our jobs well.”

Businesses with effective listeners are reward with increased sales, more satisfied customers, more satisfied employees, and increasing productivity which all leads to increased profits.

Through Effective Listening we:

  • Gain more information
  • Make better decisions
  • Make fewer mistakes
  • Spend more time productively
  • Share more viewpoints
  • Improve management/employee relationships

Today’s workplace requires more and better listening by everyone.

To be an active listener:

  1. Eye contact
    1. Eye Contact and body language indicate that we are actively engaged and listening.
  2. Do not interrupt
    1. Allow the speaker to finish, before asking questions.
  3. Ask questions for clarification
    1. Before you ask the first question that pops into your head, take moment to ensure the speaker is done speaking. And be sure to pause after you ask the question allowing time for the speaker to formulate a response.

Networking and relationship building is essential. If you struggle with active listening start by putting the phone away when someone is speaking to you and make eye contact.  Listening well is a skill we need to practice every day. Active listeners give their full attention to the speaker, they ask thoughtful questions for clarification.  By giving our full attention to the person speaking to us, they feel valued and it helps to deepen our relationships.

By: Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA


BOLTON, R., & BOLTON, D. G. (2018). Listen up or lose out: How to avoid miscommunication, improve relationships, and get more done faster. AMACOM.

Turkle, S. (2013, April 19). Connected, but alone? [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv0g8TsnA6c