Effective listening by using awareness


How would you suggest the ideas and training implications for managers could be transferred into education at all levels? It strikes me that, as Tony Buzan once argued, the skills involved in ...

Read More Peter Richardson
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Poor listening is due to lack of skills in directing awareness purposefully

This state is also called 'Monkey-Mind Syndrome'. You might be surprised to learn that only 10% of us actually listen effectively and that we only remember roughly 50% of what was immediately said.

Attentive listening can help in relationships; it can help solve our problems and expand our understanding. In the workplace effective listening results in higher productivity and more efficiency. Approximately 60% of a typical manager’s day is spent listening.

So why do we struggle to focus and really listen?

Daily distractions

Can you recall a time when you thought you were listening to someone and a random thought popped into your mind? By recognising that thought you have already unintentionally shifted your focus. You smile and politely nod to show you are listening, but you just can’t shake that thought. You are now no longer receptive to what is being said and your attention is no longer on the speaker, but on the thought process itself. Have you noticed that your awareness shifts in this way?

Studies have demonstrated that 45% of the time we distract ourselves by self-interruption through unintentional listening to thoughts and automatic emotional reactions. Factor in loud noises, past memories, future fantasies, colours and objects, and it’s therefore hardly a big surprise to learn that our minds spend almost 50% of the time wandering. When you are occupied with your own thoughts and emotional reactions you are not fully present in listening to the person talking to you. The key is to notice that your attention has wandered off and to re-establish the connection with the person speaking as often as needed. To do that you have to understand what awareness – the main component of attention – actually is and how to direct it.

The magic of active awareness

Awareness is the primal quality in the life of all living beings. This is the only instrument that enables us to establish an intimate contact with everything; being a bridge it is used to discover all objects. Although everyone possesses this potent instrument, its intentional and smart use is still largely unknown to the majority. People are accustomed to letting automatic emotional and mental reactions be the drivers in their lives. Although intentional application of awareness is the most underused potentiality today, it can and should be trained to be directed at will. Prioritising the use of awareness over emotional and mental processes is the pathway to opening up new qualities, profound wisdom and new knowledge.

When untrained, awareness is at risk of being ‘caught’ and 90% of the time your awareness is caught by random objects, including irrelevant thoughts. The question is, are these thoughts related to the task at hand? We don’t have to be at the mercy of our constant internal chatter, or addicted to external stimuli. Training the application of awareness develops the powers of concentration and will, enabling us to deliberately direct our focus to the task at hand and hold it there for as long as we need.

Training to use awareness in a systematic way allows you to dedicate your focus fully and therefore become more effective at listening. The longer you keep this connection and refrain from distraction the more you take in, understand and absorb. Effective listening isn’t the only practical result of training the application of awareness. Awareness also helps you to stay focused, manage time more effectively, and regulate emotional states and the mind better. Awareness is a multi-potentiality instrument and a universally-applicable skill that can be used to benefit all areas of work and life.

Helena Lass is a psychiatrist and founder of Wellness Orbit


How would you suggest the ideas and training implications for managers could be transferred into education at all levels? It strikes me that, as Tony Buzan once argued, the skills involved in learning are not taught at any level in the education sector. Your points about effective listening and awareness aimed at managers are very valid but really too late in the development cycle. Pupils or students need these skills and awareness integrated at appropriate levels through school, higher and further education. Developing the point, why are we just considering managers for effective listening and awareness skills? If, in the long term, the education system embraces these concepts, then the need for managers only to be involved would hopefully diminish. In the meantime we are left with employees - and people generally - with the whole range of levels and skills you outlined and essential to their development in work and life generally - missing. I suggest the very valid skills you so well outlined as being necessary for managers to apply, are equally deserving to a much wider - and younger - population. I just hope the stable door has not been bolted too tightly by now.


Yes, it is so. I like this article that speaks in straightforward language about the terror of our situation. You think you have problems with awareness? Well countries and corporations are being run by people who similarly have little awareness. In my own work I have been at pains to help managers become more conscious. It is not all that difficult to achieve a temporary shift but then normality asserts itself and, unless there is sustained intention, people soon revert to "normal". If you embark on raising awareness you may need to seek long-term help and support. Its a tough challenge but worth it for meaningful life and work.


Dear Mr. Richardson, Thank you for your insightful comment to my article. I would like to respond by saying that the very brief example I gave in my article relating to effective listening using awareness is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the true application of awareness based intrapersonal skills. I also totally agree with you in terms of such skills do need to be considered in terms of a much wider reach, especially with the younger population through education at all levels. What every company can do is to begin to instil these competencies in employees and the hope is that if enough companies see the significant benefits of intrapersonal skills, then at some point in the future the scales of balance will tip. I can also only hope that it isn’t a case of too little, too late.

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