We may listen but do we actually hear?

Sitting on the plane coming back from Vienna, after delivering a keynote speech to an audience of European realtors from Spain, Austria, Czech Republic and elsewhere, I reflected on how it had been to speak from the platform, in English, and then having to wait for my words to be simultaneously translated to the audience in Spanish, German and Czech.

The three teams of two translators each, sat in closed glass-windowed booths at the side of the auditorium. This group of people could either make or break a conference. It didn't matter how much effort I put into a presentation, if it was not translated correctly, then the communication with my audience would not succeed.

Before the presentation, I went over to them to introduce myself.

"You are very important in my life for the next two hours," I told them "So I will try and speak slowly to make your job easier." We all smiled.

And now sitting here on the plane, I think about how many times our communication actually fails in delivering the message that we want. We may speak too quickly, or we do not listen attentively. The result is that although we may speak — many times we are not heard.


In our everyday lives, we may assume that what we have said has been actually absorbed and understood, and we take it for granted that this is the case. Unfortunately, many times it is not. Either because the other person was not concentrating — they were looking at their computer screen, their BlackBerry or just distracted elsewhere.

So we make the assumption, "I speak — you listen — you retain — you have heard me."

Not so! I speak — you ostensibly listen but you don't necessarily concentrate and you certainly do not retain the conversation because you didn't really hear what I said. Think how many misunderstandings have taken place over the years due entirely to an unintentional disconnect between speaker and listener.

In my opinion, there is nothing more powerful than giving of one's time to someone else: making the time to listen to the other person — without always interrupting them to give them our own opinion.

Perhaps tonight, maybe make the time to sit and talk with your wife, your husband, your child or your friend. Turn off the computer and the television. Listen carefully and with full attention to what they are saying. Finally, when it is your turn to speak, make sure you recount back to them what they have said to you — and then see how that makes both of you feel!

... and so, after that presentation in Vienna, I went over to the translators, again, to thank them. They and their listening skills had indeed been so very important for those two hours of my life.

Key points

Active Listening

  • You have to make the effort to listen attentively
  • We are not always heard when we speak
  • If you have really listened to what someone has said, would you be able to repeat the conversation back to them.

The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee wellbeing consultancy based in London. Contact the consultancy for proven stress strategies: www.carolespiersgroup.co.uk