Monday, May 31, 2004

Learning to Listen

It has been said that God gave us two ears and only one mouth, indicating the proper proportion of listening to speaking. And statistics make it apparent that listening is a lifelong lesson for us all to learn.

Of all the four communication skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—listening is the most frequently used. Research suggests that we spend about 70% of our waking hours communicating, with about 40% of that time spent listening, 35% speaking, 16% reading and 9% writing.

One of the most effective techniques for learning to listen is capitalizing on thought speed. While we speak about 125 words a minute, we mentally process information at about four or five times that rate, so the closer we pay attention the more we remember.

And good listeners also realize that listening has a visual component, as nonverbal factors contribute as much as 80% of message meaning. Such factors as voice tones, voice volume, facial expressions, hand gestures, and body posture can all carry important meaning.

When all is said and done, enhanced listening centers primarily on common sense and courtesy. Perhaps the most applicable rule to follow is simply a revised version of the Golden Rule: “listen to others as you would have them listen to you.”

Monday, May 17, 2004

Digesting the Data

According to the U.S. Library of Congress, 128 million items, including nearly 30 million books, are housed on 530 miles of bookshelves at the world’s largest repository of information in Washington, D.C. About 100,000 books are published each year in America alone. As one observer has said, “‘Print control’ is probably more urgent than birth control.’”

A single edition of today’s New York Times contains more information than an 18th century American would have encountered in an entire lifetime. And on the World Wide Web, total information available is doubling every 2.8 years. In other words, if you think life is complex now, in three years you’ll have twice as much noise to sift through just to get stuff done.

From a professional standpoint, business practices and assumptions constantly become obsolete, but most of us never see the new trends emerging. As all the statistics suggest, the problem is not a lack of data on which to base our assessment.

Indeed, according to Trends newsletter, more unique information was created in the last couple of years alone than is accessible from all prior human existence combined. It’s incredible to think about and even more so to comprehend.

The lesson to be learned here is that about 80% of communication has a major problem: the information doesn’t require action, or it requires action but there are no consequences of doing nothing. My suggestion for cutting through the data smog is to be more selective in personal media consumption with a goal of using it, not simply perusing it.