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

Stephen Covey

Our most used method of communication is listening, yet only 2% of Americans have had any formal education on listening skills. Think about that. Formal education includes reading, writing and speaking. The same is true for informal training. There are a plethora of writing and speaking workshops and conferences available, but not much is available to teach us how to be more effective listeners.

Have you ever had a conversation during which you’re distracted and the other person asks, “Are you listening to me?” Or, worse, you say that you are listening and they surprise you with, “Oh really? Tell me what I said!”

Talk about awkward!

Someone told me that because his manager was so busy answering emails during their regular one-on-one meetings and wasn’t listening to what he was saying, he finally emailed his manager instead – while he was sitting across from him! While that may not have been the ideal way to get his manager’s attention, it worked!

 

There’s more to listening than meets the… ear

Sure, many managers hear what their staff have to say, but listening is an entirely different thing. Some might say listening is an art, even. There are four steps involved in the listening process:

  1. Hearing – sound enters the eardrum and travels to the brain
  2. Attending – sound is received by the brain, and the brain decides on which items to focus
  3. Understanding – meaningful information is retained and put into context
  4. Remembering – information is stored for later use

Do you follow each step? I fall short on number four sometimes – especially when it comes to remembering names, a topic I don’t understand, or a topic in which I’m completely uninterested.

But there are other reasons managers have a difficult time with listening, the most common being workload stress and communication style differences. I know we can all relate to those. I’ve included some easy, ready-to-use tips below to help out.

 

Tip #1: Create space

Many managers are overwhelmed and even burnt out trying to meet demanding deadlines. It’s no wonder they’re checking their email during meetings. They have to get “just one more thing” done in the time they’re allotted.

It’s easy to say, “Avoid distractions”, but when someone is talking to you and all you can think about is the report you need to create or a meeting you have to attend, a better approach is needed. So, instead of simply avoiding these mental distractions, prepare for them so they don’t become issues in the first place.

Organize yourself. Remove the clutter from your physical and mental space, tie up loose ends and prioritize your task list. In other words, as mentioned in my last post, stay in quadrant II! Managing your time wisely puts your mind at ease and creates space for you to be fully present during conversations.

 

Tip #2: Listen actively

Active listening is especially helpful when communication style differences are at play. Most of us know that making eye contact is an important way of showing that you’re paying attention, but nodding or saying “yes” or “right” further assures the person that you are engaged in the conversation. To prove you’ve actually understood what was said, summarize what you’ve heard and ask questions to clarify.

Don’t forget body language. Uncross your arms and legs. Remove objects that may prevent you from having a clear view of one another. Lean forward to show interest. Be observant of your facial expressions.

 

Tip #3: Shut up

While telling you to “shut up” might be blunt, resisting the need to interject when someone else is speaking is one of the most important factors in listening. After all, how can we understand someone if we’re too busy preparing what we want to say next?

Refraining from interrupting, especially when you’re trying to convey a point, is difficult. Do it anyway! Do whatever you can not to interrupt the other person; get creative if you must. For instance, I know someone who consciously places the tip of their tongue on the roof of their mouth during conversations as a reminder not to interrupt! The importance should be placed on understanding, not being understood.

 

So, when it comes to your staff, do you listen to reply or listen to understand? Do you have any tips you can add to the list? Share your thoughts!