We all think that we have good listening skills; I don’t know anyone who would readily admit that they don’t listen. If you are someone who doesn’t listen the likelihood is that you are unaware of this, you wouldn’t know to say that you don’t do it well. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I know I don’t listen well’.
Listening is a big deal, it’s basic yet so many people don’t do it very well. Opportunities are often missed because people are speaking when they should be listening; asWinston Churchill once said ‘courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what is takes to sit down and listen’.
What does listening really mean? If you Google it the first definition that comes up is ‘the act of hearing attentively’ and the second, to ‘hear with intention’.
Most will have read, dipped into or at least heard of Daniel Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence. In it he describes listening as an art and says that it is an essential component for success in the workplace. To directly quote, Goleman says ‘Listening well, the key to empathy is crucial to competence in communicating. Listening skills – asking astute questions, being open minded and understanding, not interrupting, seeking suggestions – account for about a third of people’s evaluations of whether someone they work with is an effective communicator’.
Stephen Covey, someone else most of you will have heard of, in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, refers to the role of listening in building relationships. For those that don’t know the 7 habits they are as follows;
- be proactive
- begin with the end in mind
- put first things first
- think win/win
- seek first to understand, then to be understood
- sharpen the saw
Covey’s first recommendation is to take the time to listen to yourself (habits 1-3) in order to identify your own core values and goals. The reason is so you behave exactly as the person you wish to be would behave, it allows you to understand your own values and goals before acting so you act only in ways that are consistent with those values and goals.
His second recommendation is listening to others (habits 4-6) in order to become aware of the values and goals of others. This enables you to find common ground and thus maintain productive relationships.
It’s not nice when people don’t listen; it often makes people feel excluded and it can be very disempowering. It can also be terribly counter productive as many people have lots to offer and great ideas; in fact most ideas we have originate from someone else and none of us should fall into the ‘my way is the best or only way’ trap.
One of the things that drives me slightly nutty is people talking over people and interrupting in meetings. Yes, we all think our points are worth hearing otherwise hopefully we’d keep schtum (although lots of people seem to talk for the sake of talking) but you have to listen to other people’s points of view, the moment someone starts talking over someone they are not really listening, they are simply intent on getting their point across. Often people do this accidentally (due to enthusiasm) and most of us will do it occasionally, but I mean the serial talker over’s.
Listening is not about being passive, nor is it an unspoken agreement with what the other person is saying; listening makes people feel valued, respected and at least you will know what you are not agreeing with (if not agreeing) having listened! Feeling valued has very powerful effects on motivation and morale.In situations when we need employees to do things in a certain way, even if unpopular, there is likely to be much less resistance if people feel some involvement and have at least had their say.
Anyone in a senior position who doesn’t listen, who perhaps tells people what to do rather than involve them, will make people feel devalued and less motivated; people remember and respond to how others make them feel and listening is a basic skill in effectively making people feel part of the team.
Ask yourself the question. I for one know I can do better. I suspect we call can.