We listen. We listen to obtain information from our co-workers, our neighbors, our newscasters, and our mothers. We listen to learn new concepts, new procedures, new skills and review old ones. We listen to enjoy Netflix, podcasts, music and YouTube. We listen to understand our spouses, business partners, customers, and our kid’s teachers. We listen. It’s what we do. You’d think we’d be good at it.

Research suggests that we only remember between 25 to 50 percent of what we hear. We are remembering less than half of what our boss, colleague, or family tells us. This explains everything!

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” —M. Scott Peck

The biggest stumbling block to not hearing is our own thoughts, judgments, ideas, interpretations, biases and desire to speak. What is happening in our mind gets in the way of hearing the other person. If we really want to hear, we’d let our minds be relaxed and opened. As soon as we indulge in some kind of story about the speaker, the situation, the topic, we’ve compromised our effectiveness as a listener.

If we enter a conversation believing we don’t know the thoughts and feelings of the other person and we’re genuinely curious to find out, we might actually hear what is being said. When we interrupt, cut people off, decide ahead of time what they are saying, we send the message that we are more important than they are, what we have to say is more interesting, and what they think is not significant. No wonder we don’t remember it, we’ve already discounted it.

“If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” —Robert Baden-Powell

A team leader was busy writing notes, asking questions, moving her team through the meeting agenda. She specifically asked the newest team member what she needed. The newbie gave a clear answer. The topic was immediately shifted by someone at the table and no one cycled back to the specific need that had been voiced. Who’s listening? Later in the meeting, a question was asked and a very clear-cut answer given by a senior team member. Twenty minutes later the leader of the team came back to that topic and gave another definitive answer that was completely different from the first. Who’s listening? The leader, the one in charge, the one taking notes and wanting everyone to “get it” has so many distractions in her brain she doesn’t realize she’s hearing 25% of what is being said. This could explain why we despise meetings.

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” — Doug Larson

Listening to others is one of the easiest and most natural ways to continue our self-development. Approach every conversation with the desire to learn. Look to discover something new. See everyone who is speaking as having the potential to expand who you are. Listening monetarily cost you nothing and could give you everything.