In my last post, I wrote about an organization I had been part of. One of the biggest issues with that organization was poor communication. Isn’t that almost always true? In this particular case listening proved to be a key transformational dynamic. When people knew they were heard by someone who cared and, when appropriate, took action on their concerns, trust went up, morale went up, and metrics went up.
Good communication in all its aspects is a necessary thread that runs through all the Engager Dynamics. But let’s take a few minutes to talk specifically about listening. Like anything else, the way we listen is largely a matter of habit. We may have good listening habits or we may have bad ones.
Here are a couple of good listening habits:
- Eye Contact – this is not staring a hole in the other person’s retina, but watching a person when they’re talking to you. Look for facial expressions, especially micro-expressions (those involuntary facial muscles “twitches” that divulge a person’s true feelings), and watch body language. I call this listening with your eyes.
- Ask Questions – When someone is talking, think of it as them drawing you a verbal picture of how they see the subject of the conversation. Asking pertinent questions can help fill in details or give texture for a deeper understanding of the subject. For example, if one of your children came to you and said, “Johnny hit me!” You have a stick figure picture of a boy hitting your child. What’s missing? It could be the identity of Johnny, it could be the context and witnesses to the event, and it very well could be the reason Johnny hit them. Is Johnny a bully? Did your child hit Johnny first? Questions help fill in the picture.
Now here are a couple of bad listening habits:
- Allowing Distractions – I once had a client who prioritized the phone over the face. In other words, it didn’t matter what we were talking about together in his office, if his phone rang he would hold up an index finger, say, “Excuse me just a minute,” and answer the phone. In the meantime I sat there listening to his phone conversation . . . awkward. Not only was it awkward, but it was a bit frustrating and I certainly didn’t feel like he cared about the conversation.
- Forming your Response – There is a gap between the speed of speech and the speed of thought. When we use that gap to plan our response to what the person is saying, we lose focus on them and are, then, only pretending to listen. This is most common in situations where the discussion involves differing points of view. It may be a dialog, a disagreement, or a debate. The point here is that sometimes we disagree with another’s point of view less than we thought we did, but we don’t know it because we stopped listening to formulate our rebuttal.
You may be able to identify with one or more of these good or bad habits. We can train ourselves to stop the bad habits and develop the good habits. How, is the subject of another piece. Suffice it to say we can pay attention to the way we listen and try to identify our habits. That’s the place to start.
[Note: this post and last week’s are re-published from a Linkedin article I wrote a couple years ago. I broke the article into two parts for readability]