Miscommunication Is Too Expensive For Anyone To Afford

Looking for the solution without listening to the problem is like working in the dark.

Miscommunication and misunderstandings are everywhere. It’s like the student pilot who was asked over the radio to state his altitude and location. He replied, “I’m five feet nine, and I’m in the left-hand seat.”

Adrienne Cramer gave another example when she talked about the hospital where her mother worked. At that particular hospital, the patients’ food and allergies were posted on a large sign above the beds. One day a visitor approached the nurses’ station to say, “You people sure do call them as you see them.”

Adrienne’s mother was a bit confused by the comment. But then she went into a nearby room and saw that instead of writing that the patient was allergic to shellfish and nuts, the nurse had written in bold letters, “SELFISH AND NUTS.”

I’m sure you can think of a thousand other examples. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are everywhere — and I would add, they are terribly expensive. They destroy marriages, careers, and businesses. Listening expert Robert Montgomery said, “Nine out of ten insurance, real estate, and auto salespeople are out of a job in five years because they talk too much and listen too little.”

Could that be said of you? That you talk too much and listen too little?

I remember sitting in an audience one time where the speaker was Dr. Manny Steil. He asked us, “How many of you can think of someone who could or should improve his/her listening?” Most of us raised our hands. And then he asked, “How many of you thought of yourself?” Of course none of us raised our hands, but we all laughed and got the point. All of us needed to improve our listening skills because it is one of the surest ways to success in any relationship and any business.

According to Dr. Steil’s research, when people are asked to rate themselves on listening ability, using a scale of 1 to 100, most people give themselves a 55. They think they’re a bit better than average. But Steil contends that their spouses would rate them a 40 — which he feels, is a great deal more accurate.

So my question is this — if you’re not as good of a listener as you think you are or need to be, why is that the case? What gets in the way of you being an excellent listener all the time? You probably have one or more of the following bad habits. You may be a …

1. Mind reader: You think you already know what the other person is going to say, so you listen to the other person for a little while and then jump ahead to another thought.

2. Rehearser: You spend more time thinking about what you are going to say than what the other person is saying.

3. Day dreamer: Your mind wanders off to another topic, one that is so absorbing that you stop paying any attention to the speaker.

4. Personalizer: You refer everything you hear to one of your own experiences, and so you end up saying, “That reminds me of…” Of course in the process of telling your story, you aren’t doing any listening.

5. Selector: You listen selectively, hearing only what you want to hear. You listen for something you can agree with so you don’t have to face the deeper conflicts that lie below the surface. Or you may listen for something you can belittle or discount to prove you’re right and the other person is wrong.

Ask yourself which of the five bad listening habits is most characteristic of you. And ask your boss, coworker, and spouse the same questions. Their feedback will be your fist big step in becoming a better listener.

And then I would suggest some of the following tips to improve your listening.


If there are loose papers on your desk, you’ll unconsciously start to fiddle with them — and may even start to glance over them. You need to get rid of anything that would distract your attention away from the person who is speaking.


Train yourself to notice the color of the other person’s eyes at the start of every conversation. It will force you to make better eye contact — which leads to more productive conversations.


Questions show interest. And paraphrasing the other person’s response shows you really want to understand. So occasionally say such things as, “What I’m hearing you say… and … Your key point seems to be…”

Ask more questions. But don’t forget to pace yourself. Don’t blurt out another question as soon as the other person is finished speaking. It looks as if you were formulating your reply rather than listening.


Insert phrases like “Yes… I see … Oh … Wow … and … I understand” into the conversation. They show you’re listening at the same time they encourage the other person to keep on talking. But these phrases also keep your attention focused.


This helps you from getting so comfortable that you begin to daydream. And as you lean forward, you’ll find that you’re more attentive and eye contact is easier to maintain.


In an important one-to-one work conversation, it’s okay to ask the other person if it’s okay if you take a few notes. Just tell him or her that you want to make sure you get everything right, and you don’t want to forget anything. It can be a sign of respect.

In a more formal meeting, where note taking is more expected, don’t try to get all the details down. If you do, you can’t pay full attention to what’s being said. Write only key words, phrases, and numbers — just enough to remind you of the speaker’s main points.


Of course, that’s not always practical or possible, but when you let the phone calls go, you’re sending another strong message of respect. You’re telling the other person that he/she is very important, and right now he/she is getting all your attention.

The strength of your business and the quality of your relationships are strongly affected by the skillfulness of your listening. Helen Keller said it best. She said: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

Action:  Of the 6 bad listening habits listed above, identify the one you use most often. Then consciously work on catching yourself using that bad habit and STOP yourself the moment you catch yourself.