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How to Have Successful Group Meetings
Chapter 4 Listening in a Meeting
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Successful Meetings                                                 Chapter 4


Listening In a Meeting


Did you know that most of us spend 70% to 80% of our waking hours in some type of communication?  Of that time 45% of that time is dedicated to listening.  Other studies have found that most of us are poor listeners.  One study shows that after a 10-minute presentation only 50% of the information was retained.  The ability to listen well in-group meetings is vital to be an effective participant and a good employee.  Good listening is important not only in the business world but also in life.  First you need to know what listening is and how it differs from hearing.  Next we will go over guidelines and a 10-step formula to good listening.   Finally, some barriers to effective listening and three ways to improve your listening will be discussed (Lee 2005).



Listening vs. Hearing

There is one basic difference between listening and hearing.  Hearing is a physical act while listening is the act of hearing while also retaining and comprehending the information.  Good listening can be hard at times but it can be achieved by practice and hard work.  Good listeners can block outside distractions and focus on the subject matter at hand.  There are three basic ideas about what listening is.  First, listening is focusing on the person speaking; then taking in the meaning of the words, and absorbing the emotional content of the words.  Listening is a skill that with time can be mastered.  There are six basic guidelines to better listening (Schilling 1999).



Listening in a business meeting is essential to good performance.  However, inattentiveness can become a barrier.  These 6 guidelines can help in becoming better listener.


6 Guidelines

  1. Establish frequent eye contact with the speaker. 
  2. Always try to hear ideas and not just the words that are being spoken. 
  3. Block out thoughts that are not part of the meeting.
  4. Increase your attention span. 
  5. Take notes at the meeting
  6. Ignore faults in speakers logic or delivery (Schilling 1999).


With these guidelines also comes a 10-step formula to follow when listening.  This helps in achieving those 6 guidelines.


10 Step Formula to Better Listening

  1. Face the speaker
  2. Keep an open mind
  3. Listen to ideas not words
  4. Don’t interrupt
  5. Wait for pause for questions
  6. Ask questions
  7. Be attentive
  8. Feel speakers feelings
  9. Give feedback
  10. Pay attention to what is not said.



Barriers to Listening


There are many barriers to listening attentively and comprehending verbal communication. First unchecked emotions can play a large role.  Anger, fear, and depression can effect how one might listen to the speaker.  Also called emotional noise, this might cause listener apprehension.  For example, talking with a professor can be frightening, which might cause poor listening.  Being self-absorbed can also affect listening.  Thinking about yourself or your next comment stops your focus on the speaker.  Language differences will cause a strain on listening and comprehension.  Also, external noise and verbal clutter can be very distracting and will cause attention shifts among the listener.  If the listener is not interested or the information is not wanted, boredom can occur.  Information Overload can cause the listener to remove him/herself mentally from the discussion.  Also, Information rate will cause boredom or attention shifts.  The average speaking rate is about 125 words per minute while the brain has the capacity to understand 400 words or more.  This means that only 25% of our brain capacity is being used.  The other 75% of our brain has nothing to do, so our minds will want to wander.  Here is a list of possible barriers to effective listening (Guidelines for Good Listening).



  1. Information overload
  2. Unchecked emotions
  3. Semantics
  4. Noise and verbal clutter
  5. Boredom
  6. Information rate
  7. Attention shifts
  8. Listener apprehension


3 Ways to improve listening skills


1. Anticipate the speaker’s next point

2. Identify supporting elements

3. Make mental summaries



These three ideas can help in practicing to become a better speaker.  By anticipating the Speakers next point, the listener will improve his/her attention span.  Identifying main points will help in understanding the ideas and meaning of the discussion.  Finally making mental summaries will help in reinforcing learning. 


Listening is the most important tool in communication.  Business meetings revolve around communication; therefore good listening is an essential building block to having an effective meeting. 


How to Join the Discussion


Good participants of business meetings know when and how to join the discussion.  Participants of a meeting are expected to give their ideas and make contributions to help achieve the goal of the meeting.  Active participants do this very easily, but others find it very hard to effectively join the discussion and express their ideas with everyone in the meeting.  First, participants need to know when the right time comes to join the discussion.  They then need to know how to present their ideas in a favorable fashion.  There is a five-step formula to help in doing this.  Also the bottom-line technique and politics need to be understood  (Schilling 1999).


When to Join the Discussion


Good participants only join the discussion when they have something to say that adds to the value of the discussion.  Participants should not be counterproductive by presenting information that is not relevant to the topic.  Members should always give short pointed statements that waste no time.  Long speeches and wordy phrases are unnecessary. 


Avoid hanging over unimportant details.  Knowing when to pick your battles is important.  All participants need to know when the issue needs to be debated and when it should be let go. 


Never interrupt a speaker in the middle of the sentence or an idea.  This is just common courtesy but it also hurts the flow of the idea. 


Always ask questions when appropriate to help clarify and understand the speakers meaning.  If done correctly, everyone at the meeting will appreciate good well-placed questions. 


Formula for Presenting Ideas


  1. Think the Idea through before presenting it.
  2. Think about the best, crisp way to present the idea
  3. Show benefits of the idea
  4. Be prepared to defend the idea
  5. Lay out how to accomplish and action need to complete your idea


Following this formula will help in clear thinking.  This mental process should be done before an idea is brought up at a meeting.  Presenting ideas in this fashion helps ideas to become more logical and clear for everyone at the meeting. 


The Bottom Line Technique


The bottom line technique is the best way to present an idea at a meeting.  First the main idea is presented in the first two or three sentences and then supported.  It is a direct method where the listeners get the idea first, then gets clarification and support to solidify the idea.  With this technique, ideas are brought out quicker and the discussion is able to move at a much faster pace (Lee 2005).


Politics of Presenting an Idea


All organizations have a hierarchy where some individuals have more or less authority and responsibility than others.  When a boss offers an idea, it holds more clout, and usually inherits more consideration.  However, lower ranking members usually need to present their ideas more carefully and accurately for the idea to be considered.  Lower ranked positions should also discuss the idea with their superior before the meeting, so there are no surprises.  Again, all ideas should be well developed before the meeting. Finally ideas must be clearly stated so everyone understands. 


There are two things that a participant in a meeting should never do.  First, Don’t take ideas or credits that are not yours.  This will cause displeasure of the person who initially came up with the idea, and may cause a conflict at, or after the meeting.  Also, Don’t criticize others ideas.  This might also cause conflict.  Use a positive tone to introduce alternatives to others.


Tips for Joining the Discussion


  • Question your need for attendance
  • Do your homework before meeting
  • Speak Up when appropriate
  • Emphasis should be on the problem
  • No surprises




Effective & Successful Group Meetings