By: Shawna Laird-Brush, Business Manager
Does this seem familiar?
Boss: Shawna, do you blah, blah, contract, blah…
Me: Uh-huh (while searching for that darn piece of paper I KNOW I had 2 minutes ago)
Boss: Blah, blah, fuel report, blah…
Me: Hmmmmm…. (opening a desk drawer)
Boss: You’re hearing me, but are you listening?
Me: What?!? Yes! I heard you!
Boss: Then what did I ask for?
This used to happen to me in my first days of working (and I will neither confirm nor deny whether it still might). It would always be remarked upon in my evaluations. It took me awhile to figure out the difference between hearing someone and listening to them.
Hearing refers to the sounds you hear and listening requires focus. Listening is a commitment and a compliment to the speaker. It is a model for respect and understanding. A person will spend more than half of their time engaged in some sort of communication – with listening being the biggest percentage of that communication. People respond to great listeners – both by liking and appreciating them.
Great listening skills can lead to a multitude of positives – both personally and professionally. They can lead to better customer satisfaction and greater productivity with fewer mistakes. You have to pay attention to the “story” being told – how it’s told, the language being used, even non-verbal cues. Effective listening is the foundation of all positive human relationships.
So, how do you become a great and effective listener?
Stop Talking. This is number one for a reason. You can’t listen if your mouth is open. This is good rule and should be a poster on your wall. You will be respected more (and liked) if you don’t interrupt or talk over another person.
Prepare Yourself. Make sure you relax and focus on the speaker. Sometimes that means picking up the phone and holding it to your ear instead of using the speakerphone function.
Remove distractions. Don’t doodle or shuffle papers. Don’t surf the web or daydream about tiny toy soldiers shooting raisins at your boss to see if they land in his mouth. Though fun, it sends a message to the speaker that you are bored or don’t want to listen (sometimes you don’t but do it anyway).
Be patient. A pause by the speaker does not necessarily mean you can jump right in. They may just be taking a breath so they can continue (for the next 5 minutes, right?). Just remember – don’t interrupt.
Avoid personal prejudice. Sometimes this one is the hardest. We don’t always like our boss or colleague that is speaking. Try not to let that get in the way. You can miss important information by thinking more about the fact that you know they are the one who keeps stealing your desk drawer candy (no evidence though, so HR won’t DO anything) instead of what is being imparted.
Don’t attack the speaker. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of what the person is saying, don’t come at them with fangs bared. This is NOT effective listening.
It’s their ideas and not just the words. Some people may not as eloquent (as you think you are) in expressing their ideas. So look at the whole picture and link together pieces of information to reveal their ideas.
Provide feedback. Reflect on what the speaker said and summarize their comments periodically. Feedback can also be imparting your own ideas or building on what they may have said. Just remember – don’t attack (see rule above).
You should always be deliberate with your listening. People who don’t listen rarely figure out where or why things went wrong. It can also be dangerous. You may be “hearing” the safety guy and end up with your arm being cut off – and no one wants that.