Active listening - Poor listening skills in communication

November 2019

Poor listening skills in communications are one of the biggest problems in our society. It appears that discussing ourselves, our actions, and the events in our lives takes precedence over truly understanding the person we are talking to. There's an inherent need to validate our importance.


There are floods of selfies, pictures of where we are, what we do, what we think, and what we own all over social media. It's easy to get the impression that this world has become selfish and full of attention seekers. Why is that?

Many problems result from poor listening skills

I believe this is a result of poor communication skills. We simply aren't listening enough. It's like a cry for attention, a longing to be heard, even though it's driven by the wrong motives. People tend to respond more to a Facebook post than to words spoken directly to them. My clients pay me to listen because no one else does.

It becomes a never-ending cycle. We engage in a conversation with someone who only talks about themselves. Then, in our next interaction with someone else, we release our frustration from the previous one-sided monologue by focusing solely on ourselves. And guess what? Our "victim" might do the same, and the pattern continues. None of us would have truly listened to each other if we had conducted interviews with all these individuals.

"Listening is the ability to receive and interpret messages in the communication process accurately. Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood. As a result, communication breaks down, and the message's sender can easily become frustrated or irritated."


The difference between listening and hearing

Listening isn't simply about opening your ears and letting words enter. True listening involves processing what the other person is telling you, not just passively receiving the sounds. I really appreciate the expression "I hear you." It goes beyond the physical act of sound reaching my ears; it implies that I'm actively engaging with the message in my mind and, ideally, in my heart.

Many people listen without truly hearing. Men, in particular, seem to excel at this. Because they don't provide immediate feedback, we might mistakenly believe that we are being heard. However, if you ask them about something you just mentioned, they often have no idea. A good listener also empathizes with what you're saying.

I personally enjoy asking questions to gain a deeper understanding without interrupting my conversation partner. It not only demonstrates that I'm actively listening but also shows that I'm genuinely interested in the conversation. Don't be afraid of moments of silence. It may feel a bit awkward initially, but it allows your counterpart time to reflect. Listen to the power of silence!

"The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.

The best way to understand people is to listen to them."

Ralph G. Nichols

Listening skills at work

I gained valuable insights into listening and communication skills during my previous role as a Sales Manager. In the sales industry, many professionals tend to pitch their products without conducting proper research on their prospects. After all, time is money, isn't it?

However, it's crucial to prioritize listening to your customers before juming right into a sales pitch. The biggest mistake one can make is trying to sell products the prospect doesn't need or already has. This not only leads to losing this sales conversation, but also hampers any future chances of being heard by them. I've had instances where customers didn't make a purchase initially but remembered me for genuinely listening, eventually returning to me later.

Even now, I receive numerous messages on LinkedIn, ranging from job offers to product pitches, all referencing my previous job. IThese individuals invest time in searching for potential candidates or prospects but fail to read through my complete profile. It's sad to see such poor and unprofessional work being done by individuals who are paid for their efforts. It not only wastes my time but theirs as well, which is frustrating.

A recent incident is a prime example of another form of not listening. Someone approached me and said, "I saw your work at Since when have you been working there? Can we discuss your future with them or explore other opportunities?" This demonstrates a complete lack of attention to detail. LinkedIn explicitly states my starting date, and in my current job description, I clearly state I'm freelancing. It's a perfect illustration of poor "listening" skills in action. This will bring you nowhere.

The sound (and power) of silence

My experience as a Life Coach has been really valuable in developing my listening skills. I've come to appreciate the power of silence and actively try to understand more than just the words spoken by my conversation partner. It's not something people are accustomed to. However, when you truly listen and engage by asking questions about what they've shared, you'll witness how quickly they open up. In a brief conversation, individuals often reveal a lot about themselves, going beyond superficial topics. If you genuinely want to connect with someone, listening becomes the key.



Misunderstandings arise when we make assumptions instead of actively listening. If we solely focus on our own goals and disregard the thoughts and desires of others, we miss out on the opportunity to learn from meaningful conversations. In such cases, communication becomes nothing but a waste of time. However, by genuinely listening, we open ourselves up to the possibility of discovering something new and valuable!


"Words are the source of misunderstandings."

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

"When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know.

But if you listen, you may learn something new."

- Dalai Lama

Talking for self-expression

It happens so often that I meet someone and they quickly turn the conversation into a monologue about themselves. In situations where it's appropriate and I'm dealing with a personal matter, I choose to get up and leave without saying anything, even if it means cutting off their self-centered talk. Some might consider this rude, but I disagree. It's rude to assume that I'm obligated to tolerate self-expression and narcissism. At that moment, they could be speaking to anyone, and I make it clear that I'm not the one they should be addressing.


For many, the fact that I'm a Life Coach seems like an invitation to pour out their life story and expect a free coaching session. However, I can quickly see, whether a person genuinely seeks a good listener for personal growth and healing or if they simply want to indulge in self-praise. Unfortunately, there are far too many of the latter in the world. Perhaps this is why people are becoming less willing to listen. In such cases, I put a stop to the self-centeredness by providing my contact details for a scheduled appointment along with my hourly rate.

Do you want to get to know your conversation partner? Listen!

By listening more, we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about our conversation partners, whether in personal or business settings. Talking without taking the time to listen won't get us very far. It's a common misconception to label quiet individuals as shy or secretive. In reality, they might be the rare gems who don't feel the need to constantly talk about themselves but instead actively listen to others. 

So, go ahead and ask a few thoughtful questions, allowing the conversation to flow without interruptions. Embrace the power of pauses and silence. There's no need to fill every moment with meaningless words simply because you feel uncomfortable with silence. Remember, silence can be an opportunity for reflection and deeper connection, so let it be.

Pay attention

Most people have a tendency to listen with the intention of formulating a reply. They stop listening after just a couple of sentences, as their minds are already preoccupied with how to respond. It's like a communication competition. Personally, I find great value in the quiet moments and pauses. We shouldn't rush to fill those gaps with meaningless words or interrupt the silence. Those pauses indicate that the other person is thinking, and quiet moments often hold more significance than all the words spoken before.

We spend about 70% of our time communicating

We spend half of our communication time speaking and writing messages; the other half is listening. But do we really listen? How long are we quiet to fully concentrate on our counterpart without thinking about something else?


"Various studies stress the importance of listening as a communication skill. A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners."

Thought speed is greater than speaking speed

"Another reason for poor listening skills is that you and I can think faster than someone else can speak. Most of us talk at the rate of about 125 words per minute. However, we have the mental capacity to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute.


This difference between speaking and thought speeds means we use only 25 percent of our mental capacity when listening to the average speaker. We still have 75 percent to do something else with. So, our minds will wander.


This means we must make a real effort to listen carefully and concentrate more on our mental capacity in the listening act. If we don't focus, we soon find that our minds have turned to other ideas."

Study from Dick Lee and Delmar Hatesohl, University of Missouri

With two ears and only one mouth, it's clear that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

The benefits of listening

By listening attentively, we make our conversation partners feel acknowledged and heard. In that moment, the focus is entirely on them. This significantly alters how they perceive us compared to someone who dominates the conversation. If you meet someone you might be interested in as a potential partner, would your interest remain if they solely talked about themselves? What foundation would that create for a meaningful relationship?

A healthy and fruitful conversation should involve moments of silence from both sides, allowing for an exchange of thoughts and ideas. This exchange shouldn't be about interrupting one another or solely expressing personal viewpoints but rather about being responsive and engaged.


Take the time to monitor your own conversations and honestly analyze them. Reflect on questions like "Why did I say?" and "What was my intention?" If the answer boils down to simply wanting to talk about yourself, dive deeper into the underlying reasons for this behavior. It could be rooted in insecurity, a sense of worthlessness, or maybe you think it's normal. Maybe you lack someone to talk to, and that's okay. You have the power to change. Seek professional help or develop mindfulness to gain better listening skills.

"Listening is an art that requires attention over talent,

spirit over ego, others over self."

- Dean Jackson

How to improve your listening skills

  • Empathize with what is said
  • Avoid prejudice because of your personal experience or feelings
  • Be patient, don't interrupt
  • Keep eye contact
  • Ask questions, mainly to understand better, not to judge
  • Don't be afraid of a pause; let the counterpart think
  • Don't give solutions. Your solution isn't my solution
  • Give feedback to show you're listening
  • Repeat what was said to get confirmation you understood it right
  • Check the body language
  • Hear the "words" between the lines
  • Don't get distracted
  • Put away your ego


Poor communication skills are often at the root of most problems we encounter. By dedicating ourselves to listening more effectively, we gain knowledge, have more meaningful interactions, and demonstrate respect. A positive side effect of good listening skills is that we can achieve our needs more efficiently and effortlessly. Additionally, when we truly listen, others are more likely to hear us. However, it's essential to remember that listening should never be motivated solely by self-interest.

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