The Importance of Real Listening
In today’s society, it can be far too easy to get distracted by the world around us even when we want to be listening. How many times have you stopped someone mid-sentence to check your phone after hearing the ding of your text message notification, probably without even realizing it? Since we were children, sitting in a classroom, staring at the window or watching the clock, listening has been shown to be a challenge.
The good news is that taking the extra time to focus on actively listening is actually worth the effort. Real listening is not only in service to the person you’re listening to, it is actually even more of a benefit to yourself. Would you rather leave a conversation with your boss knowing exactly what they are asking of you, or would you prefer to wing it off the bits and pieces you caught? Listening in a workplace environment is imperative. It benefits your colleagues, your customers, and the company as a whole. Active and real listening in the workplace can mean the difference between expansion or closing the doors.
You may be thinking that sounds a little exaggerated, but there are numerous accounts of just how badly things can go wrong when someone gives or receives misinformation. One of the deadliest accidents in aviation history occurred in 1977 when a Pan Am flight and a KLM flight crashed due to miscommunication. The KLM pilot believed he was told he was clear to takeoff, but he wasn’t. If the pilot would have listened more clearly, perhaps 583 lives could have been saved that day.
While not all workplace miscommunications are likely to result in death, their consequences can be highly detrimental. Listening is a requirement at all levels. When a person walks into a restaurant and feels that the waiter wasn’t listening or got their order wrong, that customer may never come back. They may even persuade their friends not to go as well. When a company puts all their money into the launch of a new product without first listening to whether or not their customer base is even interested, they can lose millions.
It's important to put an emphasis on listening at every level.
Thankfully, we can all improve our listening skills with a little pro-activity. Here are some exercises and tips that you can use to hone your listening skills:
The best way to make sure you’re listening is to be present in a conversation. It’s easy to think we’ve heard everything when, in fact, we’re actually half paying attention to the person speaking to us and half watching that adorable puppy that just crossed our path. Show the person you’re speaking with that you want to hear what they have to say by putting your phone away, shutting off the TV in the background, and maintaining eye contact. And don’t worry if you do find that you get distracted. Apologize and ask if the person can repeat themselves. The time it takes to reiterate a message will most likely be significantly less than the time it will take to go back and fix a problem.
During any conversation, and especially when a large amount of information is conveyed, the best way to make sure that you’re listening is to ask clarifying questions. Even if you feel that you have the main idea, ensuring that you’re hearing what the person is sharing will solidify that understanding. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until both parties are certain that the message sent is the message received. Asking for a bit of clarity at the beginning of a project can go a long way in the end.
Listen Without Judgement
Often times, when we’re in a conversation with someone, opinions may pop into our minds about what the person is sharing: things like, “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” or “This is not a good idea, because…” Regardless of whether or not your thoughts have validity, when you’re focusing on what’s wrong in a conversation, you may miss out on the next part which could be an explanation of what you have a problem with.
This also helps when someone is sharing something with you, but their message is accompanied by upset or yelling. It’s difficult to really hear a person when you feel personally attacked. It’s also difficult to want to listen to someone if you automatically label them negatively for sharing in the way that they do. Just because someone is upset, does not mean that they don’t have valid information to share. Listening with an open mind is almost as important as listening with an open ear.
Not only does an emphasis on active listening in the workplace cultivate productivity, but it also cultivates a sense of teamwork by creating a more welcoming environment where coworkers can trust that they have each other's backs. Imagine a game of telephone. The message begins from the Director who communicates to the Manager, who then discusses it with the Assistant Manager, who then makes an announcement to the staff. If that message is no longer the same by the time it gets from Point A to Point B, neither the Director nor the staff will be happy. If that message is consistent across the board, every part of the company can move forward knowing they are all clear on their goal.
Overall, the production level of a company is dependent on the clarity and unity of a shared vision or goal, and that clarity requires active listening.
Melissa Schoenecker is a freelance writer and co-creator of the universe based in Venice, California. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a Master's Degree from the University of Santa Monica. She contributes to a number of blogs and online postings, but her best work can be found in her gratitude journal.