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Did you know we listen at a rate of 125 to 250 words per minute but think at about 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute? Stephen Covey, author of the acclaimed The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Perhaps this is because our brain is always two steps ahead.In his book, Power Listening, Bernie Ferrari argues that “listening is the most important skill that one can learn in business,” and “becoming a good listener can be the difference between success and failure.” Keep reading for activities you and your team can do to become better listeners.

Listening activities

Listening takes practice, and as the old adage says, practice makes perfect. Here are some listening activities you and your team can try at your next all-staff or team-building meeting.

  • Tell a tale: Divide your team into groups of two and ask partners to take turns telling each other a story—any story will do. However, if your team needs help, try these topics to get started: worst first day, biggest challenge ever faced, coolest vacation or best day ever. Each partner will present to the group by paraphrasing or summarizing what the other said. Reward those who accurately recount what was told by handing out an ear bud winder or combo stylus/screen cleaner.
  • Multitasking misfortune: Think you can effectively answer that email or listen to voicemail while in a meeting? Think again. Multitasking while trying to listen leads to poor concentration. Illustrate this by dividing team members into groups of three. Assign one person to be the listener and the other two to take on the role of speaker. Each speaker must carry on a separate conversation with the listener, and the listener must turn to face whomever they are listening to at the time. When done, ask the listener to describe how difficult it was to follow multiple conversations at once, and ask the talkers to explain how it felt when the listener turned away to follow another story.
  • Telephone: This one is an oldie but a goodie. A simple game of “Telephone” can help team members measure their listening skills while illustrating the risk of how things can get lost in translation. To play, ask team members to line up in a row—the first person in line gets a sentence that they whisper to the next in line. That person whispers what they heard to the next person, and so on and so forth, until the message reaches the final team member. The person at the end of the line says the phrase they heard aloud. Measure listening skills by how much the statement changed—and get a good laugh in the process. High five pens or telephone magnet clip make a great reward for accurately repeated messages.
  • Build a bridge: Use childhood building toys to teach teamwork and listening. Divide teams into two groups, and instruct each group to build half a bridge. Bridges must be connected at the end of the activity using only one piece. The caveat? You can’t look at what the other team is doing; you must only listen to one another’s descriptions and instructions. Add a little incentive to the activity by offering a Blasting Brick Amplifier for successful completion.
  • Storytelling: This storytelling exercise can emphasize the importance of viewing a discussion in its entirety. As a group, you will make up a story, line by line. The first person can start with a simple sentence, such as “The other day, I was on my way to work.” Then, each participant contributes additional lines to the story while a moderator or note taker records it. The story should make sense and follow a shared theme. Once complete, it can be read aloud and analyzed for contradictions. For instance, if the story took place at work, but then suddenly switched to the coffee shop, that would be an inconsistency in the story line. This holistic view illustrates the importance of listening for details, not just hearing bits and pieces. Consider a Puzzle Cube as a giveaway to help drive your message home.

The power of listening can lead to greater success in your business. Practice one or all of these listening activities to brush up your team’s skills.

Piombino, Kristin. “Listening facts you never knew.” PR Daily. Ragan Communications, 29 Dec. 2013. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Covey, Stephen R. “A Quote from ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.’” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Power Listening.” Bernie Ferrari. Penguin Group, 01 Mar. 2012. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Kimbarovsky, Ross. “You Cannot Learn If You Are Not Willing To Listen. Rosskimbarovsky.com. N.p., 24 June 2013. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Travis, Eryn. “Business Listening Activities.” Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers, n.d. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Fagnani, Stephanie. “Team Building Activities on Listening.” Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers, n.d. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

Paris, C. “6 Listening Skills Exercises To Promote Stronger Communication.” Udemy Blog. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2015.

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