Hearing is a reflex, but active listening requires conscious effort. You see someone you know in passing. They say, “Hi.” So you say, “Hey, how are you?” And then you tune them out. They’re “good,” right? Everyone’s always good…right? Then you run into your close friend, you start talking, you ask her about her night. And then you tune out, but not all the way. She was probably in the library studying, like always, so it’s okay if you only “half” listen, because you already know what she’s going to say…right? Wrong.
According to the International Listening Association, 85% of what we know os what we think we have learned through listening. In a typical business day, 45% of the time is dedicated to listening. From these two statistics alone, it is clear that listening is a huge part of our everyday lives. But do we ever think about how we listen? Usually, no.
On average, people talk at a rate of 125-175 words per minute and listen at a rate of 125-150 words per minute, but think at a rate of 1000-3000 words per minute. The International Listening Association also stated that most people are, “distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful about 75% of the time we should be listening.” If we can think up to 17 times faster than we can listen, then of course we’re going to start thinking about other things while we hear something else... because we can!
But, it is important to note that there is a difference between hearing and listening. You can hear something and, as the expression goes, let it 'go in one ear and out the other'. In order to listen well, you have to listen actively. I encourage you to try this: next time you listen to a friend, family member, or just an acquaintance, listen as if you don’t know what the other person is going to say, as if you're a freshman all over again and every word coming from their mouths holds a set of directions to your next class. It sounds silly, but once you start to consciously make the effort, you’ll begin to realize that, many times, you can't assume or predict what someone else is saying as well as expected. So try it! Listen as if you don’t know what they’re going to say. Because, really, you don’t.
Another crucial element of active listening includes the under-practiced skill of listening to yourself. “Listen to your heart.” How often do you hear this phrase? Maybe in a song, from your friend, from your mom? But how often do you actually do it? How often do you take the time and make a conscious effort to actually listen to yourself, to your heart? Think about it: What do you want most? Right now. Who makes you happy? Who is in your life right now that makes you happy? What makes you happy? What makes you excited? What makes you want to wake up in the morning? There are so many questions, such as these, that seem so basic, so straightforward that you might be thinking, how could I not know this about myself? But do you? It’s easy to tell yourself what you should feel, and then just assume you’re feeling that. But, from my own experience, I find that, more often than not, what I think I should feel isn’t what I actually do feel.
You spend your whole life with yourself, so you might want to get to know you. And more so, begin to love yourself. In order to love another person, or simply get to know another person, you have to spend time with them, talk to them, listen to them. This process is the same as getting to know yourself. Although you are clearly with yourself all of the time, it is important to recognize how you truly feel and react to different situations and people-- even if it's not the way you'd like it to be. And, acknowledge that what you think you should feel actually has little to no effect on what you actually do feel. The only way you can do this is to pause and reflect, listen to your heart. If this is not something you normally, or ever, do, it may initially have to be a conscious effort. But as you begin to weave reflection and self-awareness into your daily life, it will slowly become more innate, second nature. Just as we often tune out others while they are speaking to us, we often tune out ourselves without even knowing it.
The only way to learn about yourself is to listen to yourself. Do something, anything, then see how it feels…good? Awful? Never want to feel that again? Well now you know! Make mistakes, and then pay attention to how it feels, listen to your heart; it knows more than you think. Learn from your heart, it has a lot to teach you, but the only way you can learn is if you stop and listen.
Now I ask you to listen to this question: Are you a good listener?
The Woman Behind the Monthly Words of Wisdom:
Lia Vosti is an undergraduate at Santa Clara University, majoring in Bioengineering. Growing up together, her words always made the most obscure situations crisp and clear. It is clear that she is the up and coming Renaissance woman, able to give homely advise after a day in the lab.