Saturday, November 20, 2010

Good Listeners are Hard to Find

Have you had a conversation recently with someone whose attention appeared to be somewhere else and not really listening to you? Did you ever have a conversation with someone where you really felt like the person you were talking with was engaged in the conversation and was really interested in what you were saying? These are two very different experiences aren’t they?
We know when we are being paid attention to. The other person’s body language, eye contact, and tone of voice are focused and inviting and surrounding distractions seem irrelevant. Every one of us can remember a meaningful conversation and what it felt like to “be heard.” Being heard is something everyone thrives on. We all want to be heard, and we all want our issues to be validated. This is especially so for members of your team or staff. This is double-especially so for customers.
Emails, voice mails, text messages, and the limit of 140 characters on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the very common forms of today’s communication. Technology has given us the ability to share ideas with anyone, at anytime, and anywhere in the world. Our global environment requires this technology to be successful, and it will foster continued innovation and efficiency.
However, the true essence of business is built around people and the future innovations that people can and will inspire. It seems these days that the technology we’re surrounded by exists for the purpose of inspiring communication and collaboration. Communication and collaboration is what usually needs to efficiency, innovation, and overall success.
While I am quick to admit that the advances to communications and the speed at which we can communicate are necessary, I also see that it often adds to our dysfunction. Our society has become inundated by communication overload, and so we take departures from good manners in trying to absorb and address it all.
Take a step back and evaluate your listening ability and techniques. Do any of the following apply to you?
• Check and answer email while talking on the phone (personally or professionally).

• Respond to texts while in a meeting or at your child’s soccer game.

• Watch your children IM or text while doing homework or at the dinner table.

• Spend time updating your Facebook wall instead of reaching out to someone meaningful and having a real conversation.

• Engage in a conversation with an employee, while you shuffle papers and respond to a receptionist call that Mr. Smith is on line two.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of one if not many of these listening infractions. We get caught up in the crazy and scattered pace of life. Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves that good listening is essential to effective communication, and here are some simple habits that can improve our listening ability:

Take time to listen. Stop, take a deep breath to clear your mind, and really listen to an employee sharing ideas or to how your son’s day at school unfolded.

Be attentive. Put the world on hold and pay 100% attention to the person talking with you. They believe what they have to say is important and so should you.

Listen with an open mind. Don’t be judgmental. Listen to everything the person is communicating and before judging the value of the information, ask questions to better understand the scope and depth.

Listen for feelings. People repeat those things that are important to them. Listen to what is said but also to how it is said. Feelings often speak much louder than words.

Listen for retention. While listening, summarize the highlights of the conversation in your mind so you can play it back to the person with whom you are talking. It will help you implement the important details later, and it will send the important message that you were really listening.

Finally, listen to others like you want to be listened to … you will be astounded as to how much more you will get accomplished and learn if you stop and really listen. And, you will be amazed how much you miss if you don’t!


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