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Listening well is a team sport

While the ability to listen may vary depending on the country or personalities involved, a discussion always involves more than one person. It is up to the “receivers” to work on quality listening and the “transmitters” to assure the quality of their transmission.

With an executive master’s degree in business from the Université Paris Dauphine and an MBA and a BAA from ESG UQAM, Benoit Chalifoux conducts lectures on soft skills, sales, and diversity in Canada, Africa, and Europe. He is also deputy director of international relations at the School of Management at the Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM), where he has founded more than 80 partnerships with universities around the world. The co-author of a book on entrepreneurship, Saisir sa chance – quand le sport rencontre l’entrepreneuriat (Logiques, 2019), he has also provided support to start-ups.


“Listening is still the best way of communicating with someone,” Benoit Chalifoux says. This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating in 2020, when communicating by email or text message has become more natural than starting a face-to-face conversation. “New technology and the hyper-consumption of social media have reduced the average concentration span from 12 to 8 seconds in 10 years,” he says. In such conditions, listening properly becomes a challenge.

Listening is not (really) the same from one culture to another

The general inability to pay attention is not an inevitability of modern times. Proof of this lies in the fact that the ability to listen varies between cultures — something that can give rise to misunderstandings in discussions between people of different nationalities. “In Europe, the Finnish are renowned for the great respect they have for what others have to say. They listen right to the end, without interrupting,” Chalifoux explains. Answering too quickly after someone has finished a sentence is seen as intrusive or impolite. The extreme attention the Finnish pay can be disconcerting if they are speaking with someone from a different background. The non-Finn might worry they are not getting sufficiently speedy feedback, and may interpret the silence as a sign of indifference.

On the other side of the globe, the Japanese are also renowned for the quality of their listening, and their ability to correctly pick up on the slightest nonverbal cues. “It’s an integral part of Japanese culture. Discussions are based on implicit, subtle messages, which the Japanese are able to decipher very astutely.” This is the exact opposite of habits in North America, where dialogues are direct and explicit, but where there is less perception of the other. The difference between the two cultures also comes through in their tolerance of silence. Studies show that Japanese businesspeople can cope with gaps of 8.2 seconds without feeling uncomfortable, while Americans become uneasy after 4.6 seconds1. This gives rise to communication problems.

Listening: the extrovert’s weak spot


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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.