Two friends were walking down a busy street one evening when one paused and said, “Listen to those crickets chirping.”

“What crickets?” said the other man.  “I don’t hear any crickets.  Hey, you!”  He waved down a woman passing by.  “Do you hear crickets around here?”

“No,” the woman said, and went on her way.

The first man closed his eyes for a moment, then walked to a mailbox on a nearby lawn, reached down, and picked a cricket up from the grass.

“That’s amazing!” said his friend.  “How did you hear that?”

“Watch,” the first man said.

He dug into his pocket for a handful of change and tossed some coins onto the sidewalk.  Immediately the door of the house opened, a car stopped, and two passersby stopped to look for the coins.

The first man shrugged.  “It all depends on what you’re listening for.”

listeningWe were born with two ears but only one mouth.  Some people say that’s because we should spend twice as much time listening as talking.  Others claim it’s because listening is twice as difficult as talking.

Whatever the reason, developing good listening skills is critical to success.  There is a difference between hearing and listening.  Pay attention!  Your next job/account/paycheck may depend on it.

These statistics, from the International Listening Association website, really drive home the importance of listening.  At the same time, they demonstrate how difficult listening can be:

  • 85 percent of our learning is derived from listening.
  • Listeners are distracted, forgetful and preoccupied 75 percent of the time.
  • Most listeners only recall 50 percent of what they have heard immediately after hearing someone say it.
  • People spend 45 percent of their waking time listening.
  • Most people only remember about 20 percent of what they hear over time.
  • People listen at about 125 to 250 words per minute but think at about 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute.
  • There have been at least 35 business studies indicating listening as a top skill needed for success.

In addition, there are a number of behaviors to avoid if you want to be a really good listener: interrupting, avoiding eye contact, rushing the speaker and letting your attention wander.  Don’t rush ahead and finish the speaker’s thoughts, because you might take them in the wrong direction.  Arguing, as with a “yes, but” response, indicates that you were more interested in getting your own point across than listening to theirs.   Trying to top the speaker’s story doesn’t win you any points either.

Listening can be hard work, and some people are more challenging to listen to than others, but when you find yourself tuning out what someone is saying you should ask yourself why.

If you want people to listen to what you’re saying, make sure they feel like you have listened to them.  When we feel we are being listened to, it makes us feel like we are being taken seriously and what we say really matters.

In his book, “The 8th Habit,” management guru Stephen Covey tells a true story about the importance of asking other people their opinions.

Covey says W. “Bill” Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel chain, described to him “the biggest lesson I have learned through the years.”

“It is,” said Marriott, “to listen to your people.  I find that if you have senior managers who really gather their people around them, get their ideas and listen to their input, you make a lot better decisions.”

Marriott said he learned this lesson from an encounter with President Dwight Eisenhower when Marriott was a young Ensign in the Navy.

“I had been in the navy for six months and had come home from the Supply Corps School for Christmas.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson came down to our farm with President Eisenhower.”

Marriott said it was extremely cold outside but that his father had put up targets outside for shooting.  He asked the President if he wanted to go outside and shoot or stay by the fire.

“He just turned to me,” said Marriott, “and said, ‘What do you think, Ensign?”

Marriott said he told the President it was too cold outside for shooting and to stay inside by the fire, which he did.

Marriott said that lesson, asking and listening to someone else’s opinion, has stayed with him and has been a big asset in his business.


Mackay’s Moral:  It’s amazing what you’ll hear if you just listen

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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