Effective Communication: Listen Harder

Here’s an unlikely tip for effective communication: if you want to be heard more clearly in conversation: listen harder.

Normal American conversational speech is about 125 words a minute. Normal comprehension, on the other hand, can occur at 400 to 500 words a minute. That means you are capable of listening at a rate four to five times faster than the other person can speak. Given the amount of unused capacity you have on the “listening” side of a conversation, your mind tends to wander or you think about what you’re going to say next. If both people in the conversation are spending their “listening” time daydreaming or thinking of the next point they want to make, the likelihood of effective communication is small.

Active listening is a set of techniques designed to focus your attention on the content of the other person’s speech and increase the likelihood of effective communication. These techniques consist of:

  • Playing back what you’ve heard
  • Summarizing
  • Reflecting emotion
  • Taking notes

Active listening creates more effective communication, not just because it leads to better, more efficient information exchange. It also raises receptivity in your conversation partner.

When you raise the other person’s receptivity, you dramatically increase the chance that the person will understand whatever point you’re trying to make. Hence my tip for effective communication: listen harder.

The acid test for this tip is your company’s customer service department or call center. We have found that training customer service and call center professionals for effective communication is one of the most challenging – and rewarding – jobs. Customer service professionals can spend most of their workday fielding angry questions from frustrated customers. And, to the extent that satisfied customers are a business organization’s most critical asset, the call center operators’ skill is critical to the success of the business. Our Communication Skills for Exceptional Customer Service™ program teaches a structured approach that incorporates active listening techniques.

Training customer service professionals to probe for customers’ issues and use active listening skills to defuse customer frustration enables them to control customer dialogue. This speeds up their success, increases their confidence, and bolsters their job satisfaction. Now that is effective communication!


Check Out Our New Communication Q&A Series