Life revolves around communication. Almost everything we do requires it. But communication isn’t all about speaking— listening is just as important. Communication is vital in daily life; fail to listen and see how fast relationships crumble.

Why is it that there are hundreds of opportunities to improve our speaking abilities yet few ways to master the art of listening? Perhaps it’s the difficulty in learning how to listen … really listen with our hearts and souls, not just our brains.

The average attention span of an adult is approximately 22 seconds. In addition, we tend to remember about half of what has been said, and that decreases dramatically as time passes, even in as little as a few hours. A normal person speaks at about 125 words per minute, while our brain can process at least 400 words per minute or more.

Holy mackerel, Batman! We just aren’t listening, really listening to what is being said. So what’s happening? When someone is talking we’re filling in the blanks, making assumptions, and preparing our response or rebuttal, way before we actually have interpreted what that person is saying.

It’s not too late, and it’s not hopeless. You can develop listening skills. Here are some steps:

  • First, pay attention. Slow down and open your ears. Then open your heart; be willing and try to understand that which is not being said.
  • Watch the other person’s body language. Pay attention to their tone of voice, even the rate they are speaking. Fast speaking may mean they are in a hurry, saying something urgent, or trying to head off an interruption. Nervousness or excitement makes most people speak faster. Slower speech may mean someone is tired or bored. A speaker’s emotional state is often reflected in their speech rate.
  • Look beyond the words for the true meaning of the conversation without making a quick judgment or evaluation. Be empathetic.
  • Show interest, ask questions, and make eye contact. A nod of the head or an occasional “uh-huh” lets the other person know you are present and listening.
  • Be patient and let others talk without interruption, censure or rebuttal. Allow them to fully express their thoughts and emotions.

To listen, truly listen, is a gift we can give to others. Practice this art and you’ll experience positive changes in your life.