listening skills in corporate America


Listen Up, Class!
The Truth about Listening Skills in Corporate America

They happen every day. In fact, you might be in one right now.


There are business meetings, appointments, staff meetings, vision meetings, brainstorming sessions, and the list goes on! Like them or not, the corporate America seems to run on them.


According to the mathematicians at Lucid Meetings, mid-level employees attend an average of 8, 1 hour meetings per week. That means that in a typical week, an employee with have at least 1 meeting every day. And this number only increases with higher paying positions.

Now, 8 hours may not seem like a lot, but let’s put this into perspective. Even the most rigorous courses at a university require only 3 hours of in-class time per week. During this time, students are presented with chapters full of technical information along with a plan-of-action of how they are the prepare for testing and presentations.

Okay, so 8 hours might be a lot, but regular meeting means a more informed, productive, and focused workforce…right?


Maybe not.

According to One Desk, 20{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of an employee’s time is spent outside of meetings looking up internal information and tracking down colleagues for help. That’s an additional 8 HOURS of time spent on gathering information.


And, that’s not all.

According to William Schiemann, author of Performance Management: Putting Research Into Action, only 14{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of the organizations he polled report that their employees have a good understanding of their company’s strategy, goals, and direction.



This means that, although personnel is required to spend 8 hours in meetings per week, they still don’t know some basic things, from their daily plan-of-action all the way to the greater mission statement of the company. Information first-year college students are required to know in half the time.


Shouldn’t that information have been communicated during any of those meetings?

Well…Maybe it was.

Meetings get a bad reputation for wasting time and being generally unproductive. Many studies have been done about the general feeling about meetings, resulting in the response of the Clarizen 2015 study, “almost 50{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of people claimed they prefer getting a mullet to status meetings”. Meetings are well known for being loathed by managers and employees alike.


So, should we do away with them?

According to a study done by Verizon, 69{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of employees rate that meetings are good and productive! And according to WorkFront, 84{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of employees agree that face-to-face meetings are highly effective.


So, what does all this mean?

Meetings are an effective way to present information! However, meetings are also hated.

So, if the information, strategies, and goals are being presented…where is the disconnect? Why do we not see better results in productivity? And why do we hate meetings so much?


The Truths About Listening Skills

According to an article done by the University of Minnesota published in the Harvard Business Review, people generally do not know how to listen.

If you think about it, this probably won’t come as a complete surprise.


The article points out the lack of listening education received by American students:

Behind this widespread inability to listen lies, in our opinion, a major oversight in our system of classroom instruction. We have practically forgotten the art of listening. Listening training—if it could be called training—has often consisted merely of a series of admonitions extending from the first grade through college: “Pay attention!” “Now get this!” “Open your ears!” “Listen!”

Certainly our teachers feel the need for good listening. Why then have so many years passed without educators developing formal methods of teaching students to listen?


The Implications of Poor Listening

As a result, this lack of training of listening skills has caused some serious, money wasting issues in our workforce.

According to the University of Minnesota, right after someone hears something, they remember only 50{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of the information.


And as time passes, it only get’s worse.

In fact, after 8 hours, that person will forget half of that!

So, essentially, you should expect that the average person you speak to will only remember 25{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} of the information you tell them. This is your clients, employees, and maybe even your spouse.


It’s a wonder any of us can communicate an idea to each other at all!


Why do untrained people struggle so much with listening?

Reason 1: We’re Too Smart!

Does this scenario sound familiar?

There you are, standing in front on a conference table full of people. You’ve just finished a presentation you spent 3 days putting together. You used visuals. You used every trick in the book to engage the group. Not very many people even checked their phones! You feel confident that you presented all the materials in a way that was easy to understand.

And then, the man in the back raises his hand and asks a question. Normally, you welcome questions. But this question was answered very clearly during the presentation.

And then another hand goes up. And another. All questions that were answered during the meeting.

And something inside of you screams, “I already covered that! Very clearly! Are you all stupid?”

I must confess, I have been guilty of thinking this belittling thought.

However, I’ve learned that this listening problem does not lie in their intelligence. It’s actually quite the opposite.

In fact, our brains are TOO smart!

According to Human Factors International, our brains process speech at a rate of 210 words per minute. And read at a rate of 400-800 word per minute. The brain has a staggering speed of processing that puts even the best super computers in existence to shame.

However, people speak at an average rate of only 100 words per minute. Far slower than our minds are processing.


What does this mean?

Our minds get bored when we listen.

We have extra processing space left. If we do not have the skills to control our listening and slow our thinking, we use this extra processing power for other things. Things like planning a clever response, deciding what to have for lunch, or going over our to-do list. And often, these things distract us from fully taking in the information that is being told to us.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none” excerpt=”Engaged, active listening leaves no room for boredom or daydreaming. #Listen @PiciandPici”]Engaged, active listening leaves no room for boredom or daydreaming.[/tweet_box]


So, why do we hate meetings so much?

Because our minds get BORED. We’re being forced into a situation where we have less information with which to engage our minds. This is why we often feel the need to check our phones, daydream, or even fall asleep.

If you’re currently in a meeting, it’s why you’re reading this article right now.


Training our minds to slow down our thinking enables us to use our extra processing power to engage with the speaker, form pertinent questions, and commit information to memory. This practice leaves no room for boredom and creates a mental environment for effective listening.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none” excerpt=”Our brains get bored during meetings because we do not know how to listen well. #Listen @PiciandPici”]Our brains get bored during meetings because we do not know how to listen well.[/tweet_box]


Reason 2: We Have Biases

Listening is deeply effected by our preexisting biases and emotions.

When we hear something that begins to go against an existing belief, our first instinct is to shut it down. Because of this, we may miss valuable information presented as we assume the content what is actually being said. On the other hand, when we hear something that supports our beliefs, we tend to accept it willingly, often forgoing the usual verification process our brain runs information through. Neither is an effective way to listen.

In addition, much of the information we hear will evoke an emotional response. We run that information past our biases and beliefs and feel a certain way about what is presented. These emotional responses will affect our listening so greatly it may actually alter the content that is remembered.


[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none” excerpt=”Uncontrolled emotional listening may alter the content that is remembered. #Listen @PiciandPici”]Uncontrolled emotional listening may alter the content that is remembered.[/tweet_box]

So let’s recap…

  • Listening is a skill, not a natural trait.

  • We’re pretty bad at listening.

  • Poor listening skills effects productivity and morale.

  • Our minds often get bored, leading to distracted listening.

  • Uncontrolled emotions and biases lead our mind to alter the information we remember.

From all of this, it’s pretty clear that listening is important. However, because listening is a skill, it can be learned!

Researchers at the University of Minnesota did a study about training adult business professionals in listening skills. Here is what they found:

These people have made some of the highest gains in listening ability of any that we have seen. During one period, 60 men and women nearly doubled their listening test scores after working together on this skill one night a week for 17 weeks.

By training only one night per week, their group DOUBLED their listening skills in just 4 months!

The benefits of better listening skills are widespread:

There is an average of $213 billion per year spent in wasted meetings alone. Better listening during meeting could help prevent this.

Businesses with effective communication are 50{db95e0fd77ae6d141d4535e2bf7b464d98e4151322120f553d7786be9a7303be} less likely to have employee turnover. As we illustrated above, better listening is essential for better communication.

And last but not least, better listening contributed to better communication resulting in stronger relationships at work and at home.

Listening has proven itself to be a skill well worth the investment.