“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

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This quote from Stephen Covey is very relevant in today’s fast paced, ambiguous and at times uncertain business environment. Our ability to listen is an essential skill for those responsible for leading and managing people at every level.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been in meetings and discussions with leaders and managers at various organisational levels in a diverse range of industries.  In one meeting a very frustrated leader posed “why is it people don’t seem to listen?”.  Their perspective was that people were hearing but not necessarily fully engaged in actively listening.

Following that discussion I reflected on why it is some people don’t listen.  Why it is some people give the impression they are listening, only to find out later they were not listening at all.  I also reflected on and endeavoured to observe how well I listened.

I think Hugh McKay in his book Why Don’t People Listen sums up why this seemingly simple task is more challenging.  When in discussion with others we are attentive to;

  • What did they MEAN to say?
  • What they ACTUALLY said
  • What the other person HEARS
  • What the other person THINKS he/she hears
  • What the other person SAYS in response
  • What you THINK the other person has said

While it appears simple, listening is actually complex because it involves deriving meaning.

Here are tips that leaders and managers at all levels can apply to become more active in their listening:

  • Use the power of questions to help clarify meaning, remove assumptions and misunderstanding, and promote discussion.
  • Don’t jump from “hear” to “respond” without ensuring you fully understand the situation or issue.
  • Suspend judgement; practice listening from a position of “not knowing” i.e. when listening, even if you think you know the answer, listen as if you are hearing the information for the first time and accept that what the person is saying is true for them at that point in time.
  • First reflect on what has been said, and then answer.
  • Wait for a response; don’t feel you have to fill the space.
  • Be empathetic – others have an absolute right to feel any way they please.  It may turn out they were incorrect or misunderstood or vice versa.
  • When disagreeing, summarise and reflect back to the person what you understand their position is before responding with your own point of view.
  • Watch your non-verbal messages and pay attention the other person’s non-verbal messages.

Improving active listening can be learned, contact us to find out how we can enhance your listening skills.

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