Why We Can't Remember

Have you ever walked away from a conversation to realize just minutes later you don’t remember A SINGLE THING the person told you? You know, a classic case of “in one ear and out the other?”

Was her name Miranda or Mariah? Was she going on vacation to Panama or Portugal? Who did she say was having back surgery? Did we plan to follow-up next Monday or was it Thursday?

Honestly, my friend, you are not alone. Even the pros have to fight biological factors that prevent us from achieving near perfect memory—if we aren’t careful, our minds can easily distract us from the conversation at hand.

This week we are going to discover WHY we have trouble staying focused in conversations and what we can do about it!



In research from Florida State University and Michigan State University, scientists found that the average listener will only recall 25% of a conversation two months after it happened. Even worse, the average person forgets ½ to ⅓ of the conversation within the first 8 hours following.

So why are we such terrible listeners?

In a study published by Harvard Business Review, researchers asked executives in a manufacturing plant to analyze the role listening plays in the workplace.

After weeks of observation, all of the executives noticed something—all lines of communication they’d set up only outlined how information was to be disseminated. They realized they had never prioritized LISTENING in the company’s communication practices and found their employees weren’t well-trained to BE effective listeners.

One executive said, “It’s interesting to me that we have considered so many facets of communication in the company, but have inadvertently overlooked listening. I’ve about decided that it’s the most important link in the company’s communications, and it’s obviously also the weakest one.”

After looking at the data, researchers identified two areas that—if we aren’t aware of—prevent us from being the compassionate and charismatic communicators.

1. It’s biological: In short, we are wired to be bad listeners. Before you give up hope due to your genetic make-up, let’s take a deep breath.

The average person speaks at an average of 125 words/minute. BUT, the average person can process up to 250 spoken words/minute. So while you’re trying desperately to stay focused on the conversation at hand, your mind is busy filling in the empty processing gaps in your brain—What am I going to eat for dinner? I need to send that email. Did Jennifer respond about the report I sent?—you basically sabotage your attempt to listen.

2. We aren’t well-trained: In the academic setting, we learn most content through reading. While teachers still play a large role in the classroom setting, students are asked to consume the majority of content and coursework by reading (which, by the way, the average person can do at a rate of 225 words per minute).

In essence, we haven’t been trained well to BE good listeners and communicators—so let’s fix it!

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
— Stephen R. Covey


While we can’t slow down our aural processing speeds, we can train ourselves to develop better listening habits. By training our brain to fill in those empty mind gaps with thoughts pertaining to the conversation, we can become effective listeners.

  1. Anticipate the next sentence: Effective listeners attempt to stay ahead of the speaker—anticipating next words or sentences keeps the brain engaged even when the conversation lulls.

  2. Inspect the evidence: Is what you’re hearing true? How does it compare to your own experience or knowledge? What questions do you have based on what you’re hearing?

  3. Summarize the speech: Periodically throughout the conversation, effective listeners create a mental summary of what they’ve heard so far. And, when appropriate, even summarize back to the person vocally— “So if I’m hearing you correctly…”

  4. Read the clues: Non-verbal communication is equally as important as the words someone is speaking. An effective listener fills their mind gaps by taking in ALL of the communication clues—not just the verbal ones.

  5. WRITE IT DOWN: While these tools are extremely effective to listen well DURING the conversation, nothing has been found to help RETAIN the information more effectively than WRITING notes following a conversation.

This is where Contact Mapping can change the way you listen and communicate. Once you’ve employed effective listening techniques during the conversation, take a minute and record them in your Contact Mapping app and you’ll never be left thinking “What did we talk about?!” ever again.

What does that look like? Here's an example from the app 👇



Speaking of listening (see what I did there? 😉), we have been hard at work putting together a POWERFUL training course for you with one of the world's best teacher's on the art and science of listening, John Milton Fogg. We have early bird pricing just for you!