I work with a lot of people and companies on improving their communication skills. Whether a company or individual hires me because there is a serious problem or they recognize that poor or ineffective business communication skills are hindering them in some way, the root cause is always the same: They don’t listen, but they always think they are. If I asked 100 people, “Do you think you listen to other people?” the answer would be a resounding YES! Of course, they would also tell me that other people don’t listen to them — which of course is what they see as the problem. “If only those dimwits would listen to me, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Every one of us believes, truly believes, that we listen to other people. I’m here to argue this point. We don’t listen — we hear. Our ears hear what someone is saying but we aren’t really listening.

We miss tone, inflection, the specific words they use, their values, beliefs, the nuances and what’s under the words. We attach judgments to what they are saying or how they are saying it, and don’t listen. At times we are even thinking about the upcoming meeting, the report we have to finish, the fight we had this morning with our kids, or any number of other things. If any of these facts exist we can’t be listening, even if we hear the words. Improving listening skills is the first step toward improving communication.

Even more than that, improving your listening skills will build trust by making others feel understood, It eliminate misunderstanding, and improves productivity and, and, and … all leading to happier relationships and more fun. And who doesn’t want that?