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Communications: Learning From Listening

November 24, 2009

The salesman needed to inform his boss about the problems with the new products. The boss intended on listening attentively even though he was pretty sure he knew what the salesman had to say. After a few minutes the boss’s mind drifted onto another problem as the salesman continued to talk.

As the boss shuffled papers on his desk, the salesman reviewed the details of the current situation. When he paused briefly, the boss interjected his standard response to what he supposed the problem to be.

The space shuttle program is not the only organization that experiences communication problems from time to time. At the core of most business problems lies a breakdown in communication.

Communicating is the art of transmitting information and understanding between individuals. Effective communication results in a common understanding among those involved. It’s a two way process. Every communication involves a transmission and a reception.

The receiving end of communication depends on a skill called listening. Listening is different than hearing. Unlike hearing, listening requires a conscious effort. Developing listening skills presents an excellent opportunity for a manager to enhance their performance.

Before you can be a good listener, you must get somebody to talk to you. That’s not always as easy as it seems. Some managers and other authority figures often appear to be unapproachable. If you are seen as being “unsafe” to communicate with candidly, you have effectively cut yourself of from your best sources of information.

Encourage people to talk to you by rewarding them, not punishing them for their candor. An open mind, genuine interest, and a non judgmental response are welcome rewards to someone who takes the risk to speak their mind. Even when you don’t like the message, don’t kill the messenger.

You can subtly encourage others to share their thoughts with you by asking open ended questions. “What do you suggest we do?” “Is there anything that I can help you with?” Be sure that your non verbal communications, your body language and eye contact, are sending a consistent message that you are anxious to listen.

When people are ready to talk to you, you only have one more thing to do before you can start working on your listening skills. Stop talking! We all talk too much and listen too little. Don’t be afraid of silence. Be relaxed, patient and ready to listen. You’ll get the chance.

Once you have started to listen, don’t forget to finish the job. A good listener allows others to finish what they have to say before responding. Be especially careful not to interrupt in emotional or heated discussions. Allowing a speaker to completely finish has a ventilating effect on hot air. Blocking the vent will only increase the pressure.

When somebody wants to talk to you, give them your full attention. Stopping what you are doing is the best indication that you can give that you are interested in what the other person has to say. Showing interest is the most immediate complement you can give a speaker.

Are you willing to withhold judgment about somebody’s idea until they have finished expressing it? If you don’t, you’ve reached a verdict before all the evidence has been heard. If a person hesitates while speaking, do you allow them to resume before you begin your response? If you don’t, you’ll never know what they might have told you.

Prior expectations about what the speaker has to say often contributes to poor listening. If the speaker is willing to invest their time in speaking to you, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have something new and important to say.

While most of us are better talkers than listeners, we all can listen faster than we can talk. It’s a natural tendency for the mind of the listener to to race ahead of the speaker. The ineffectual listener mentally completes the speakers thoughts, often incorrectly, before the speaker has completed his sentence. Good listening requires discipline and concentration.

The objective of communication is to achieve a common understanding. Take time to reflect on what you have heard prior to making a response. Summarizing what you have heard and restating it is an effective means of eliminating misunderstandings.

Because it’s your business, you’ll learn from listening. The better you listen, the more you’ll learn.

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