By Vladimir Voronin, via ThinkStock
By Maja Svensson, Founder, Elsa and Me
We all know the pain of someone sharing some advice that wasn't asked for. Be it your parents, a colleague, a friend, or just a random person -- anyone giving consul when you weren't looking for it (and especially when you don't necessarily agree with it), can leave you feeling challenged, annoyed, and even sometimes like a failure. Yep, listening to people give their ideas of what you should be doing (whether it's right or wrong) can be emotionally trying. So, to save ourselves the discomfort, we usually politely pretend to listen and just flat out ignore the offered guidance. But by turning deaf ears to those well-meant bits of wisdom and sometimes painfully-flawed opinions, you're actually doing yourself a disservice.
The truth is, being able to truly listen can benefit you both in your personal and professional life. It's an essential component of effective leadership and a key trait for being reliable to friends and family. But yet it's still a skill that most of us willingly lack or fail to cultivate -- because it's hard.
Science says the average human brain's speed of thought can handle approximately 400 words per minute, yet most of us speak at about 125 words per minute. That difference in speed leaves a listener's brain with about 70 percent unused capacity during a conversation and can easily lead one's mind to wander while someone is talking. That usually means we find ourselves thinking about something else when we're listening and can cause us to miss crucial information.
Since becoming an entrepreneur, I've thought a lot about what listening to other people and what their opinions actually means. I'm sure everyone who makes a living doing their own thing (entrepreneurs, creative freelancers, artists, etc) will know what I mean when I say that it can be quite overwhelming hearing the many (and often strongly-felt opinions) on how to run the business you started. It is especially tough to give full consideration to those spouting strategies you've already thought of or suggestions that you just find stupid. I once found myself lacking the energy to explain to one particular person that I was not going to get an investor to pay for advertising in The New York Post.
But despite all that, listening is key to success in almost all aspects of your life. From hearing out your customers to better understanding your significant other. It also helps keep your mind curious and open. One study found that most of us spend 70-80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time we spend approximately 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. And yet, the average listener is said to understand approximately 50 percent of a 10-minute oral presentation.
Being a business owner and attending a lot of networking events, I've discovered that meeting new people is key to finding new clients, and the easiest way to network with new people is to listen to what they have to say. I've also come to notice that, despite how excruciating it can feel, being at a networking event and listening to someone picking apart your business can be one of the most fruitful ways to come up with new strategies and ideas.
People often talk about the importance of public speaking, pitching, and delivering your message in an efficient way. And I can't agree with them more, but I would also like to add that, independent of the capacity and where you are in career or life, it's just as important to be a skilled listener. It is also something that can give you a strong position in relation to everyone else -- because the average person is a pretty lousy listener.
So... ears open, stay focused, not on yourself, but on that other person. Instead of feeling as if you didn't ask for his/her advice, say thank you, follow up with a question, and think about what it was they had to say. Maybe it might just mean that you've heard another opinion, and that it made you feel even better with the decision you already made. Maybe it was a waste of time, but maybe, it just changed everything.