How to Avoid Random Acts of Listening

Make your conversations count by paying attention to your attention.

I recently spent a whole day in a class about active listening. As a coach, it’s my job to listen for and notice the subtext — the unspoken underlying messages in a conversation. Aka, the third ear. Consider this:

  • We spend about 45% of our time listening, making it the most used communication skill.

  • A study by IBM found that poor listening skills cost businesses $62.4 million per year.

  • The average attention span for an adult is around 8 seconds, meaning that people can only listen for a short amount of time before their mind starts to wander.

  • Studies have shown that people retain just 10% of what they hear. This means that 90% of what is heard is forgotten or not retained.

In class, we practiced listening to our conversation partner for three minutes — without interjecting.

Give that a try. See if you find yourself making assumptions, thinking about what you want to say, hearing what you want to hear, judging, fidgeting, or getting distracted by your own agenda.

The skill of listening might be one of the most important things you can practice. For your clients, your colleagues, your family, and your friends.

Listening – The Bottom Line

Feeling heard and understood is a fundamental human need. Becoming a better listener will bring stronger, healthier relationships. Strong and healthy relationships will improve your social fitness. Social fitness is linked to longevity and has recently been cited as the number 1 key to a happy life. It’s all connected.

Dive Deeper – Recommended Resources

The Art of Active Listening | The Harvard Business Review Guide

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

HBR Article: What Great Listeners Actually Do

Need and MCLE Speaker? Social fitness is an essential pillar of health, like movement, sleep, and nutrition. Both introverts and extroverts need healthy social connection routines — to buffer against stress, enhance professional performance, and influence career well-being. We can learn how to “network with purpose” and rethink relationships as part of a happier, healthier lifestyle. Ask me about my MCLE talk for “wellness competence” credits.