Recently, I posted a piece on the tremendously important pursuit of consistent, effective communication. To take my point a step further, I subsequently added a piece regarding a concept called background-foreground communication, wherein I described a method that I learned long ago to aid in facilitating clear, undistracted communication. I’d like to take this communication series a bit further by talking about communication from another perspective — the ever-important practice of listening.
A common misnomer about listening is that people fundamentally believe that they listen with their ears. Now, I am surely not arguing that biologically people don’t listen with their ears, mind you. But rather, that listening is a crucial competency that leaders ought to possess that involves far more than just one’s ears. Listening, when done correctly, involves all of the senses. Proof of the matter is that deaf people can listen and in many ways are actually better listeners for not having the ability to hear. So, in short, hearing is NOT listening. True “active listening” involves watching with attentiveness, reflecting without judgment, and appropriately reacting with consideration, and doing all of the above without distraction.
Just as hearing is not listening, looking is not watching. For sure, looking at someone does not indicate a measure of attentiveness to that someone, but rather merely that your gaze is focused in their general direction. Watching someone with attentiveness, on the other hand, involves looking at them, making eye contact, exhibiting appropriate body language and other non-verbal cues that demonstrate attention to and consideration of what is being spoken.
Reflecting upon what someone has said to you prior to responding is also critically important in achieving effective communication. This requires suspending judgment, not to mention, fully listening to what is being spoken without simultaneously attempting to formulate a response in your head … at least until the speaker has concluded any statements. This is not to suggest that you must agree with what has been stated, but at least give the speaker the courtesy of hearing them out fully before jumping to a reply.
Finally, be sure that the response given or reaction (which is completely within our own control) is one that is respectful and considerate, despite whether or not you agree with the statements being offered. To be clear, a response is far more than just what you might say verbally in reply…it also includes facial gestures, body language and other non-verbal gestures. We’ve surely all been there … something is said and we simply roll our eyes, cringe or throw our arms up. And just so I’m up front about things, these gestures, as much as they are funny to think about sometimes and even funnier to witness on occasion, are most definitely not “respectful and considerate” as true, active listening would recommend.
To be a great communicator, one must master both speaking and listening. Don’t ever become complacent with your communication skills, as I can guarantee that each and every one of us will forever be able to improve our respective skills and thereby enhance the effectiveness of how we communicate. And without a doubt, success is strongly correlated to effective communication.
Nina Nets It Out: Communication is a two-sided activity –- the speaker and the listener. To be an effective communicator, it is necessary to master the skills required on both sides. Be sure to review the tips on “10 Tips to Effective & Active Listening Skills” to master the listening side and use the communication approaches I previously wrote about to help out on the speaking side. I know I was amazed at the results when I began using these approaches. Climbing the corporate ladder will undoubtedly demand a solid command of communication skills and make the journey that much easier and faster.
Thanks for the comments and pointer on “Active Listening,” Nina. It’s a set of powerful communications techniques that has fallen from favor (or even knowledge) among too many trainers.
Active listening was originally a program developed by the Xerox Corporation to train their salespeople. It grew out of research that convinced Xerox that their most successful salespeople were the ones that listened the most and helped move conversations along.
The term active listening is used to distinguish the tools from just listening where you sit back and let communications content wash over you. Instead, you take an active role in the listening process. Here are some resources on Active Listening.
With that in mind, what parts of a face most influence first impressions?
Thanks Kare. Very interesting research which seemingly points out why we take to some and not to others…at least based on first viewing/impressions. As someone with years of experience in call center management, we even used mirrors to encourage our operators to smile so that they sounded better to the person on the other end of the phone. I guess you’d call that an audio first impression. Always remember, people can hear a smile!!
Not sure how I missed your comment back on the 8th, but I didn’t want it to let it go without responding. I must also thank you for the historical context and additional resources on ‘active listening’. I believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of this approach and know that business would be much more productive if more adhered to its principles.
Thanks for doing this one.
Am reading your post while taking a break from writing follow-up synopses of a series of executive 360s just completed. We’re talking about folks who are, at minimum, at the 300K base salary point and some of whom will be candidates for the top job.
The major snafu for most? Listening. But the issue is not confined to the skill of listening. It manifests itself in how an executive is perceived relationally.
That is, many of these people have super-high ratings in “getting it done.” Great. But the flag being raised is that they are getting it done at the expense of fully understanding the depth of an issue as well as not being perceived as hearing/acknowledging the people who are helping them do it.
Those who are unwilling or unable to bump up their listening game will find their career mobility stunted, at least in this organization.
I haven’t seen anyone bring up the “listening” topic in quite a while–much needed.
Thanks as always for your comments….insightful and very real. I fully believe that your statement, “Those who are unwilling or unable to bump up their listening game will find their career mobility stunted” is true for any worthwhile corporate organization. Smaller businesses may in fact have founders or leaders who can “get away” with poor listening habits. But, success within larger entities demands good communication skills – both speaking and listening.
The relational perceptions you mention are so critical to one’s status and long-term viability within a company. This is one of the main reasons why properly crediting your “village” is not just the right thing to do as a manager/leader, but it is the career-wise thing to do as well. After all, as I have noted in past entries, leaders, no matter how good they may be, are representatives of a larger group. I’ve also described an award ceremony I attended where the CEO of a company being honored and when thanking the committee issuing the award said, “While I am the one chosen to receive this award, I am but a mere representative of a much larger team that has truly earned this award.” It is such acknowledgments that help leaders climb the ranks with the support and admiration needed to succeed at higher rungs of the ladder.
Again, thanks for your valuable contributions, Steve!
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