Why We Have 2 Ears and 1 Mouth

Have you ever given thoughts to why we have two ears and only one mouth. To be able to hear in stereo or to let the words of others in one ear and out the other. Kevin poses this question to Frederik Imbo, an expert in face-to-face communication at Expert Academy.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Have you ever given thoughts to why we have two ears and only one mouth. To be able to hear in stereo or to let the words of others in one ear and out the other. I pose this question to Frederik Imbo, an expert in face-to-face communication.


Hi Frederik, welcome in our studio.


Hello Kevin.


Why do we have two ears and just one mouth?


Why do you think yourself?


Well, listening is more important than speaking.


Exactly, however, listening is not easy at all. For example, a friend of yours is telling about his holiday. He said, "Yeah, I've been to Thailand, was so nice," and you interrupt him by saying, "Yeah, I was also in Thailand two years ago. Oh my gosh! The food was so spicy there."


That sounds familiar.


Exactly, and how does the other person feel?


Not well.


He feels very frustrated, not well, because he wanted to tell something about his holidays and you were only talking about yourself. It seems like when we let people speak, we are not listening to what they say. We only listen to what is happening in our own head, so we are not listening. We are maybe hearing what the other person says, but there is a big difference between hearing and listening. A duck can also hear. No big deal with that. It's not really wow, but listening is very, very, very difficult.


But why is it that so important?


If you listen to someone, you let the other person speak about what is important for him or her. Every human being has literally the need of being heard. It's so important to share what is alive in yourself and if you can be the listener, you really help the other person by listening and you show interest to the other person.


But that's not easy.


It's not easy, at all as we said. Second advantage is that if you listen, you get bunch of information of what is important for the other person. For example, classical example when I teach sales people to better communicate. I train a lot on the listening skills. I train them to first listen to what the other person wants to tell you. He can tell about what is important for him. Is it the price? Is it the product? Is it the fact that something is new? Let the other person vent what is important for him, and if you listened well, only then use your mouth because you have two ears, and only one mouth which means that you should listen twice as much as you speak yourself, so only speak after you listened to the information the other person gave you for free.


How do you do that then?


It's not easy. We have never been told at school to listen. Did they teach you at school how to listen exactly?


No, but they told me that I should listen more.


Yes, the said maybe a hundred times, "Kevin, would you listen,ha!"




"You don't listen! You have to listen, ha!" It's not because you tell someone is not listening that you, that the other person knows what he should do. If I go to a shop, and I ask the shopkeeper, "I do not want apples."


Yeah, how do I know what to give you?


Exactly, so exactly with the same with listening. If I tell you, "You don't listen to me," you don't know what I attempt from you, so I should be more concrete by saying I want you for example to give me a bit more time because listening can be so many things and the first thing is for example making time for the other person. Hoo! It's a busy life. We are running, running, running, running, running and sometimes we forget to make time for the other person. We don't have the priority. We don't give priority for the other person. We need to make time. If you work with human beings, I think it should be priority number one to make some time to listening, to listen to the other person. It's like the African who says to the European, he says, "You have the clock. We, in Africa, we have the time."


That's true, but on the same when you're producing an event for example you just don't have the time.


Exactly, it's busy, busy, busy, busy, busy and that case I think it's more honest to, to be honest and to be genuine by saying "I'm sorry, Kevin, I am really fixing this problem now. I don't have the time. Can you, or, keep it short, or could you come back in a few seconds, in a few minutes?" How does it feel when I'm, when I'm trying to say honestly that I don't have the time, and asked you to come back, how does it feel?


Well, if I want to tell you something important, then it's frustrating but at least it's honest.


Yes, of course.




Do you feel that I was no longer listening?


No, you were ...


But I was listening. You said that it was frustrating, that you did not like it, that I did not have the time, but actually, you appreciated on the other hand my honesty.


Yeah, that's right.


You see. I listened well to you.


It didn't feel like that.


It didn't feel like that. Exactly, so the effect of my communication is not what I try to, what I intend, but the effect of my communication is what you as the other person, what you understood. And you understood that I was not interested because I was looking away. That was the effect of my communication, so if I want to create another effect, say I want to give you really the feeling that I'm here and now for you present, then I should look you straight in the eyes. I should establish eye contact.


Yeah, but when you start staring, that also becomes weird.


Exactly, I teach people in communication how to do it, and to make eye contact and then they, after their course, they listen again, and they always stare no, no, no, no, no, that, they, they took it too literally. Looking at one another doesn't mean you should stare. I always suggest to mirror the body language of the other person.




When I'm looking at you. When I'm talking, you can listen back by looking back to me. When I sometimes look away, it means that sometimes I need a little space for myself and then at that moment you can also look away even when I'm very shy for example I tell you something and I'm looking away the whole time, it will give me, give me, put more on myself on my ears when you also look away and not stare at me. It's like when you drive a car, and you should look the whole time to the person sitting next to you.


That's becoming dangerous.


It becomes very dangerous, so




Let's not do it.


Are there any other things we need to pay attention to?


Mentally be open for what the other person is telling you. How many times does it happen that your asking a question and answering at the same time. For example, what do you think about the caterer here on the event?


It's good.


It's good. The location. It's not really. It's cold.


Frederik, you're already giving the answer.


Exactly. I'm pre- programming you what I attempt from you to answer me. We are the only human being on earth who have to capability, the skill to reflect upon ourselves. We call it auto reflective consciousness. That means--


That sounds impressive, but what does it mean?


It means that you can reflect upon yourself and look to yourself out of like saying like a helicopter and thinking, "Am I really listening very well to the person?" Not really I'm only talking about myself, and not really open for the other person so by reflecting upon yourself, you get aware how about how you communicate at that moment. So when you become aware of the fact that you're actually pre- programming and not listening to the other person, you can put your ideas aside and really say to yourself, "Okay, now I'm going to be open to what the other person wants to speak about."


But still that's a lot to pay attention to.


Exactly and it doesn't stop there even. And some people react in a complete different way. For example can you tell us something about here, let's say the studio that did not work very well this morning? Can you speak about something? I don't know.


Well we did do some intros and it didn't went well.


I think you did well. You should not stress about that Kevin. You should just be self confident. How does it feel when I answer this?


You did hear what I said but your answer doesn't match my feeling.


Exactly. Actually what I was saying was, "No, no, no. Don't worry your feelings doesn't exist." Actually what I should do is be open for your feelings by reacting with a lot of empathy. Empathy means that I try to connect with what is alive in you. You said that it was difficult repeating your intros over and over again. When I react empathetically I should say, "Huh, I can imagine what's frustrating for you to doing all over and over again." You got nervous by that?


Yeah, by the last time. I did yeah.


Exactly, you see what's happening. You get bit of relieved by being heard what is alive in you.


And even by you asking me questions, it makes me feel better.


Exactly, asking questions is genuine, is wonderful, is gold. And if you ask a question to someone, you show again that you are interested in what is alive in the other person. You may sometime you let that person speak about what he wants to speak about. A lot of people asks only questions to know what's they want to know. For example, there was a guy, a Flemish pigeon, player who was talking about the competitions with these pigeons and a guy who was not really interested says to him on an event, "A pigeon, yeah a pigeon, a pigeon. How, how long does it take to prepare a pigeon in the oven? To eat it?" Not really very empathetically.


No, no, no.


So if you ask a question, are you really interested to what is alive to the other person? About what he wants to talk about.


But can you learn to listen?


Yes. It's like playing a piano. You can learn some notes. You start with do and re, and only those two notes you try to play them. Not already all the notes you try to do it step by step. It's the same with listening. I met a guy who really worked hard on his listening skills and he told me that he took one year of his life to really pay attention...


A year?


A year to pay attention. About how he could improve his listening skills because his family told him, and his colleagues told him, "You never listen to me." He really wants to change that. He didn't want to live like that and he said, "One week, I was paying attention to being more open to what is alive in the person. The second week, I was paying attention to make some more time for people." Next week he said, "I pay attention to asking better questions, to ask you open questions instead of close questions and so on and so on."


Did he succeed?


Absolutely, he said the effects of my communication with different and of course if you really work a long year about that, you really make a priority of that. You can really change. If people only come to watch a presentation for example and they really think they will completely changed as a better listener, well I think it's a big illusion. You should really invest yourself in becoming a better listener.


You mentioned presentations. You do give yourself presentations on this topic.


Exactly, the presentation entitled Why we have two ears and only one mouth is a let's say one and a half hour. A very fast show about how we can improve our listening skills or communication skills in general with a lot of inspiring movies, funny clips with a lot of clothes in it and really presents to people a kind of a mirror to reflect upon themselves.


I definitely come over to see it. Thank you Frederik.


Your welcome.


And you at home thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.