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Most people think they are good listeners but the reality is we are not. Why is this?
One of the main reasons is 'lag time'.
Lag Time is the difference between the speed at which we can talk and speed at which we think.
We speak at around 120 words a minute. Our brain can process at about 400 words per minute.
Lag time is the difference - the time you have leftover in your head to think while listening.
We only use about 33% of our brain's capacity
That is a fantastic difference of 70% to 80% of brainpower that is available while we're listening.
Unfortunately, our culture does not teach us how to listen - it teaches us how to talk.
Most people use lag defensively failing to listen to others as if we are a single instrument and not a whole orchestra
In other words, we do not hear everything the person is telling us.
A good listener can know more about the person than they know about themselves
Sometimes a good listener can know more about the speaker than the speaker knows about themselves.
This interesting report by the University of Missouri gives us some more insight.
Listening is the communication skill most of us use the most frequently.
Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70% to 80% of our waking hours in some form of communication.
Of that time, we spend about 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking, and 45% listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are inadequate and inefficient listeners.
Several reasons are likely.
Listening training unavailable
Even though listening is the communication skill we use most frequently, it is also the skill in which we've had the least training. From personal experience, we know we've had much more formal training in other major communication skills — writing, reading, speaking. Very few persons have had any extended formal training in listening.
The same applies to informal training. It's not difficult to find workshops and conferences that provide opportunities to improve our writing and speaking skills. But it's hard to find similar training programs to sharpen listening skills.
Thought speed greater than speaking speed
Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can talk. Most of us speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute (if that were possible).
This difference between speaking speed and thought speed means that when we listen to the average speaker, we're only using about 33% of our mental capacity which leaves us with up to 85% of additional brain capacity. Hence, our minds wander, and we think of other things.
To listen effectively, we must make a real effort to listen carefully and concentrate more of our mental capacity on the listening act. If we don't focus, we soon find that our minds have turned to other ideas.
We start thinking about what we're going to say in response, or we get defensive or aggressive or passive.
And this is where the first communication breakdown begins. Most of us fail to use our lag-time constructively. We are usually already forming our answer even as the other person is still explaining their themselves.
Our minds also wander to similar events that have occurred in our lives. We might get angry and, even before they have finish speaking, we respond. We make assumptions about what we think they mean.
Most of our listening isn't about the other person at all. It is about us.
We may become defensive, start thinking about our response even interrupting them mid-story. Have you ever had the experience when listening to a friend where your mind has wandered to similar experiences in your life?
When we're engaged in a social chit chat environment, this is quite acceptable. However, even then it can be disturbing when one person dominates the conversation talking over others in the group dominating the conversation. I'm sure you know people like this.
When someone needs us to listen, we must pay attention. Once again, though, what the speaker says may trigger a similar experience inside us that will cause us to interrupt, and we tell our story.
We must avoid doing this. We need to hear the speaker's story.
Change of subject
It is possible that what they are telling us can make us so uncomfortable that we change the subject, not allowing them to finish what they were saying.
That is the non-constructive way of using our 'lag time'. It can be very destructive.
Retraining your brain
Training your lag time to be constructive
We can all learn to use our 75% of mental free-time or lag-time constructively. We can use it to listen to and hear and understand the message the person is trying to communicate.
We can use this gift of free time to listen deeply to them by listening to the underlying message.
That's course is all about helping you become a better listener.
Congruence in Communication
In addition to our lag time, we need to be able to recognise when the communication is congruent (when the body language agrees with the body language) and when it isn't.
Communication is a total package.
Our subconscious automatically detects when a person's communication is not congruent, and it alerts up in subtle ways.
We have an instinct, a feeling that something is off. And, more often than not, we don't know why we feel these feelings. We just don't trust them or like them, or we just don't click somehow. We don't see eye to eye. I don't get good vibes.
This course is about helping us to recognise and identify what is wrong with the communication.
A minute study taken in a social setting between a one-on-one conversation is taken out of context. The figures only apply when people are talking about their feelings and attitude.
Keeping that in mind, communication is a total package.
When people talk about feelings and attitudes, we last thing we believe 7% of the words they use.
Congruent communication is harmonious — agreement — consistent.
When these are all in agreement, there is harmony. What you hear matches what you see and feel. The vibes you have are positive.
When only 2 of the three are in agreement, you get a mixed message. It's muddy, and you get a vague feeling that something is not quite right, but you don't know why.
When the speaker's words say one thing and tone means another you have sarcasm. Sarcasm can be humour and, particularly in Australia, is a common way to express friendship.
Words are the last thing you will believe.
In a serious conversation where body language denies what the words are saying the words are the last thing, you will believe.
We can learn to control words, but the tone of voice and body language is harder if not impossible to control.
If you ask a person if they are OK when, other than what they say, indicate that they are not, is a signal that their unconscious is protecting them.
Actions speak louder than words.
Body language is loud and clear. We have all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words because it's true. Humans respond to actions because, in early times, if we didn't react quickly, we got eaten!
This article is based on the paper by Albert Mehrabian Communication without words in Psychology Today Vol 2 #4 September 1956