As bureaucracies are flattened and autonomy and decision-making are pushed further and further down into the organization, listening becomes, not just important, but vital.
Listening or Hearing, the Importance of Listening – “Are you listening to me?” This question is often asked because the speaker thinks the listener is nodding off or daydreaming. We sometimes think that listening means we only have to sit back, stay barely awake, and let a speaker’s words wash over us. While many managers look upon being active as something to admire, to engage in, and to excel at, listening is often understood as a “passive” activity. In reality: You can’t go wrong by showing interest in what other people say and making them feel important. In other words, the better you listen, the more you’ll be listened to. In the words of business leader and author, Stephen Covey, Listen First to Understand. We believe so strongly in this statement that we developed a course around it, and it’s one of our most impactful programs. Learn more here.
You may have heard the adage, “We have two ears but only one mouth”—an easy way to remember that listening can be twice as important as talking. In business you may spend many hours in meetings doing a large amount of focused listening, yet sometimes it is difficult to apply those efforts to communication in other areas of the enterprise. As a result your listening skills may not be all they could be.
Hearing is an accidental and automatic brain response to sound that requires no effort. We are surrounded by sounds most of the time. For example, we are accustomed to the sounds of airplanes, lawn mowers, furnace blowers, the rattling of pots and pans, and so on. We hear those incidental sounds and, unless we have a reason to do otherwise, we train ourselves to ignore them. We learn to filter out sounds that mean little to us, just as we choose to hear our ringing cell phones and other sounds that are more important to us.
Listening, on the other hand, is purposeful and focused rather than accidental. As a result, it requires motivation and effort. Listening, at its best, is active, focused, concentrated attention for the purpose of understanding the meanings expressed by a speaker. We do not always listen at our best however, and in a future article we will examine some of the reasons why and some strategies for becoming more active critical listeners.
Steps to Effective Listening
- Gather information to participate in the decision-making process. A lot of this information is received verbally from others—managers, coworkers, customers, or suppliers.
- Serve as a resource to others. Getting others to cooperate involves more than just telling them what is required. It involves hearing others’ suggestions and explanations as well.
- Analyze problems and evaluate results. Most people need input from others to do this most effectively.
- Understand the diversities of those whom they manage, direct, or support.
In our Listen First to Understand program, participants learn to demonstrate listening in order to receive information accurately, defuse emotionally-charged situations, and respond non-defensively in the face of disagreement. Learn more!
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