Listening is a funny thing. Think about when someone says “you aren’t listening to me”. They are not saying, “you aren’t hearing me” but “you aren’t doing what I’m telling you to do”.
If someone doesn’t do what we suggest or doesn’t act on our ideas we feel like they weren’t listening. In actuality they probably heard us just fine. The issue is either they didn’t understand or they considered our advice and decided to do something different. We have no way of knowing which it is so we simply don’t feel heard and figure it isn’t worth our trouble to try to give that person information in the future. That is a really bad situation if you were the listener. A path of communication was shutdown.
As leaders and team members we know that productive communication is key to our success. The last thing we want to do is squelch the flow of information. So how do we convey that not only are we listening but we understand, even if we make a decision that goes against what was said? We have to actively engage in the conversation. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Prepare yourself to listen. Avoid jumping to conclusions, becoming defensive and all the other things we talked about in Don’t Shoot the Messenger. This means managing your internal emotional response.
- Check for understanding throughout the conversations. Use sentences like, “Let me make sure I understand….” “What I think you are saying is…” “It sounds like you are frustrated by…” If your understanding is not quite in line with what the person is trying to tell you, give them a chance to restate themselves.
- Remember that feeling heard requires verbal and nonverbal acknowledgement. Look at the person talking to you and encourage them to talk. Ignore the ringing phone or the ding of your email.
- Be careful not to judge the information as good or bad. Doing so is likely to make the speaker feel like you are judging her. That will shut her down.
- Once she has finished speaking, summarize the suggestion or the information to verify you are on the same page and thank her. “I will have to put some thought into that.” “That idea may have some merit.” “I will add that to our list of options.” “Thanks, I appreciate it.”
- Finally, and this is important, follow-up and let the person know how you used the information they provided. If you decided to go in a different direction explain that you took what they said into account and provide a brief explanation as to why you chose an alternative path. Remember, they can’t observe why you made the decision you did and they will make something up if you don’t tell them.
I am not saying you have to go through this step by step process every time someone wants to speak to you. For the important conversations, absolutely, I suggest using all of the steps. For simpler interactions, just being aware of the steps and realizing it is important to make others feel heard might be enough. Try it with your friends, spouse, teenagers and coworkers. It can make a really big difference in relationships at work, on your team and in your personal life when people feel like you are listening to understand not just hear.
Do you listen consciously or are you usually thinking about other things and only half paying attention? Maybe you know someone who says they want your ideas but when you try to talk to them it feels like they are somewhere else. If you asked your friends, teammates or coworkers would they say you are a good listener? If you have stories about good or bad communication we would love to hear about it.
Next week, the other side of the coin. How to create an environment where people will speak up when they have ideas or concerns.
Ever wonder about the difference between a leader and a manager? You must have missed last week’s topic. Become a leader others will follow.
Tags :be a better listener, be a good listener, Champion Performance Development, communication, Doc Robyn, effective communication, feeling heard, good communication, listening, listening effectively, not feeling heard, Robyn Odegaard, you are not listening to me, you aren't listening to me