Listening on All Three Levels

Listening? What does listening have to do with your job as hard-working and dynamic business professionals? Well … a lot, when you get out of your own box and view your role as a workplace communicator and problem-solver for your internal or external customers.

You spend a large part of your day verbally communicating important messages to important people – customers, staff, colleagues, bosses, suppliers, partners, etc. And listening is a critically important part of that verbal communication process. Yet, we tend to be terrible listeners, remembering very little of what we hear.

One Best Practice for becoming Power Listeners at work is to always listen on all three levels. Any face-to-face interaction has three separate but interconnected components – the words we say, the tone of voice used to deliver those words and the visual cues from body language that accompany those words.

Research conducted many years ago by Stanford University psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabien shows that words account for only 7% of the impact and retention of the message, tone of voice accounts for 38% and visual cues 55%. Over the phone, we lose the visual component. The impact of words increases to 18%, but the impact of tone of voice more than doubles to 82%

When we listen, we must decode the factual content of the words, be sensitive to the feelings expressed by the tone of voice and observe the visual cues from body language. If all three “messages” are consistent, the message is reinforced and understood. But, if the tone and/or body language contradict the words, we get confused and typically believe what we feel or see the most.

This listening to tri-level messages takes concentration and effort. So does transmitting them consistently. But, enhancing this skill will pay back large dividends in improved workplace interactions.