So you think you’re a good listener?

Too much has been written over the years about the importance of listening, and how useless most of us are at it, for me to be able to add much to the debate.  I thought I might be able to provide you a useful exercise this week, dear reader, by way of a short video in which you can test yourself. Stand by – coming up in a mo.

Before I do that, I thought I would also give you an exercise you can use to test other people’s listening skills:  a useful dinner party game, or to try with a loved one – or, as I do, with a group of people who want to learn more about communication.  Here goes.

It’s basically Chinese Whispers, the party game.  You pass someone this verbal message (if you have a group with you, they all leave the room except one), and they have to pass it on in full to the next person.  They can’t take notes or ask you to repeat anything.  When they have passed it on they can stay and listen to see what happens to the message.  Here’s the message:

“Mr Stebbings, Chairman of Electronics Limited, will be visiting the office on Friday.  He may come by train, in which case we expect him on the 11.00 at Goodworth Clatford station.  Or he may come by car, in which case we expect him here at 10.30.  If he hasn’t arrived here by 10.45, please ask the chauffeur to go to the station to collect him.”

If is quite remarkable what can happen to that message.  The two best I have heard are:

“Stop the train!”

and, would you believe:

“The meeting tomorrow has been cancelled:  please tell everybody.”

I won’t go into why I think this happens (a subject for another Blog, I’d say): all I will say is that despite it being flagged as an exercise in advance, and having people put on their best listening ears, they Distort, Delete and Generalise.  Every time, come rain or shine.  How damaging is that to relationships, trust, respect and productivity?

Enough said.  Try it out on some folks and see the results.  And try yourself on the exercise in this video: can you do better than my mate Mike Ponting, who spends his life training others and having to be a good listener?  Stand by, and prepare to be woken up!

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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2 Responses to So you think you’re a good listener?

  1. author says:

    is this really about listening or something a bit deeper regarding our association-making cognitive machinery, sometimes good sometimes bad? I think we need to understand more about that to improve communication, all the listening in the world won’t make us more intelligent if it sits on top of the same old filters will it?

    and maybe a civil engineer would argue the toss on the 1/2 hole thing if the contractor is being paid to excavate a certain amount of stuff?

    entertaining as always!


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