Although listening is the first language skill that human beings develop--and it's how we spend 40% of our time communicating--many of us are not great listeners.

In fact, we achieve only 25% of our listening potential--mostly because we're too busy, too distracted and too focused on what we're going to say next.

At work, listening is:

  • the most frequently reported communication deficiency among new hires
  • the second most challenging aspect of communication (after motivating people) for all employees
  • the second most critical development need (after motivating people) for leaders and managers

So it's a good idea to work on our listening, which Merriam Webster defines as "to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration."

Let's start by testing your knowledge. Answer true or false to each of the following statements:

1. Listening is the same as hearing.

2. Listening skills develop naturally.

3. People with higher IQs are better listeners.

4. Listening is a passive activity.

5. You can improve your ability to listen by moving to a different location.

6. The person speaking is responsible for making sure his/her message is understood.

7. To be a better listener, sit up straight.

8. If someone doesn't agree, he/she is not listening. 

9. Asking questions improves listening effectiveness.

Ready to see how you did? Here are the answers:

1. FALSE: Just because you hear the speaker's voice doesn't mean you're listening. Hearing is the body's natural response to sound, while listening involves actively gathering information to develop a clear understanding of the message.

2. TRUE but also FALSE: While it's true that humans are born with the ability to listen--after all, it's how we learn to speak--effective listening skills must be carefully developed through effort and practice.

3. FALSE: Just because someone has a high intellect doesn't mean the person is an expert listener. Studies show that listening and intelligence are not related.

4. FALSE: Effective listening gives the body and mind a rigorous workout, causing a faster heart rate, quicker blood circulation and a rise in the body's temperature.

5. TRUE.Your office space is a breeding ground for distractions. Email, ringing phones, smartphones and paperwork are like Kryptonite that can drain your power to listen. The next time you need to have an important conversation with a colleague, leave your office and meet in a location that's free from distractions

6. FALSE: The speaker and the listener share responsibility for successful communication.

7. TRUE: Whether you're sitting or standing, keep your hands open and your arms at your sides. Leaning toward the speaker demonstrates that you are interested in what the speaker is saying--and actually helps you pay attention.  

8. FALSE: Just because a coworker (or a friend, a spouse or a political opponent) doesn't follow your suggestions or directions doesn't mean he/she isn't listening to you. Effective listening does not guarantee agreement. 

9. TRUE: One of the best ways to improve your listening skills is by asking more questions. Your question can be as simple as "How are things going?" or "How's your job been lately?"