Tag Archives: listening skills

Listen Here!

listening“Pardon?” I say.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Well,” he says.

“That’s because you weren’t listening.”

I expect that, for most of us, this is a pretty common conversation. And yet, if we were to ask any number of people to rate the significance of listening in being a good leader; building good relationships; or doing good business, the ability to listen well would be among the most important.

So why are we not better at doing it?

Well for one thing, there is a possibility that we assume, because we come equipped with two ears, listening is something that will naturally follow. However, while hearing may come naturally, listening certainly does not. And yet, little attention has been paid to teaching us how to use our ears for the purposes of actually absorbing what is being said.

Think about it. When we were little children we were taught to read and write. In high school we might have learned how to debate effectively or write a coherent essay. And, Later on, we might have had instruction on effective presentation techniques, or business writing. We recognize these as developed skills. In comparison, there is little such instruction on the topic of listening because we tend to believe that hearing and listening are synonymous.

The truth is, most people can hear. Listening on the other hand involves engaging, not only the ears, but also the brain, in the process of receiving new information and assimilating it in the way in which it was intended.  Fewer people are good at that.

So, the question is, how do we get to a place where we  listen more?

I have a few thoughts on that and here they are:

1. Make Understanding the Goal

Just to be clear, understanding is not the same as agreeing. Often, when someone is speaking, we allow our own values and judgments to intervene prematurely and evaluate. Because of this (and just as often) we fail to understand what is really being said. Making understanding the goal means getting past our own biases and making space for someone else’s perspective.

2. Be Quiet

This seems simple enough. But is requires some practice. It’s hard to take in what someone is saying if we have crowded our heads with inner chatter; are waiting for our turn to speak; or thinking about what we are going to have for dinner. Taking a little time to achieve some sense of quiet and focus on the person talking will help to achieve the understanding we need to engage in a meaningful exchange of information or opinion.

3. Use the Inquiring Mind

Let’s face it. Even with the best of intentions, we aren’t always going to get to the intended meaning of every conversation easily. And, when we don’t, it is tempting to pretend we do if only to advance the conversation and move onto something else. But of course doing that takes us further away from the goal. So it’s not something we would want to make a habit of. Asking questions for clarity however, is a great habit to get into. It lets people know we are listening and it keeps the conversation on the right track too.

4. Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another good habit to develop when listening to someone speak. This, by the way, is not about repeating word for word what we hear. Instead, paraphrasing asks us to summarize in our own words what we have heard, without judgment. If we are able to repeat what we understand the speaker to have said and the speaker confirms it as being what he meant, we have listened successfully.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

 

Note: this is a refreshed version of a post originally written in 2010

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Meetings ~ Eight Steps to Making them Productive

It happened every Friday morning.  My colleagues and I would sit around a very large conference table, shaking the sleep out of our heads, inhaling excessive amounts of coffee and chatting about, well, whatever.   We would be there for just over an hour, sometimes longer, as we each took a turn to inform the others about our activities at that particular red-hot moment.  And, of course, we all felt the need to make it sound important, so the tendency was to stretch it out a bit and use a lot of buzz type, filler words.  Sometimes we came away from these gatherings with something useful but mostly, to be honest, it wasn’t a very productive way to spend our time.  Sound familiar?  Yep…thought so.

Today, through the magic of technology, there are a variety of ways for people to share information and to “meet”.  Not to be too cynical about it but that also means there are a variety of ways to waste time, unless we put some discipline around the process.

The point is, meetings, whether in person or online, need both good leadership and management to be optimally useful.  And that often means creating a good structure.  Here are some thoughts about that.

Every meeting should have a stated purpose.  So often people attend a meeting with only a vague idea as to why they are there.  Or, they start out thinking they are there to discuss one something but end up talking about a bunch of other somethings and by the time they leave the room, no one knows what has actually been decided or achieved.  So, the task is to be clear about what the group must accomplish to make the meeting worthwhile. Then, once the purpose is nailed down:

Develop an Agenda. This will allow for optimal time management.  It is the meeting Leader’s job to make sure everyone stays on point and within the time allowed.  The agenda is the tool to use to accomplish that.

Invite the right people This is not about being exclusive.  It is about ensuring that those who will be giving their time up to attend a meeting will a) have an interest in the outcome and b) have the knowledge and/or skill required to contribute to its success.  So, a good question to ask when preparing to call a meeting is; who needs to be here?

Gain agreement on a set of principles about how you are going to behave in the meeting. These don’t have to be complicated, philosophical or lofty in any way.  They simply speak to the environment you want to create for the time you will be together. For instance, what might you want to do about the use of electronic equipment (i.e. cell phones, laptops, etc) while the meeting is in progress? Will these devices help to progress the meeting or get in the way? What about confidentiality? Will it be important or not so much? You get the idea.

State the assumptions you are working under.  This is one we often forget in our haste to get on with a meeting. For instance, it is easy to assume (but not necessarily true) that attendees have everything they need to make their best contribution to the meeting.  Are they clear on the purpose? Does everyone know each other? …that kind of thing.  Checking out assumptions before launching into the agenda saves us from having to backtrack later. That done, the job, in addition to moving through the agenda efficiently becomes to:

Ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Let’s face it, in every meeting there will be those who love to talk and those who will say little or nothing. Managing the flow of conversation and inviting a variety of people to share their views allows for a richer and more satisfying outcome. Then, before adjourning the meeting:

Make some decisions about what’s next. Identify what work has to be done; who is going to do it; and by when. And finally, before adjourning the meeting:

Check back to the meeting objective.  Was it accomplished?  If the answer is yes, then the time was well spent.  If you got more than expected, (and happily, that happens) that’s even better.

What about you? What is your experience with meetings? What do you do to ensure that you get what you want from them? Any tips, tricks or stories to share?

Here’s a clip of John Cleese’s video series called Meetings Bloody Meetings. It’s old now but still relevant…and fun. Enjoy.

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Listen Up!

“Pardon?” I say.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Well,” he says.

“That’s because you weren’t listening.”

I expect that, for most of us, this is a pretty common conversation.  And yet, if we were to ask any number of people to rate the significance of listening in being a good leader; building good relationships; or doing good business, the ability to listen well would be among the most important.

So why are we not better at doing it?

Well for one thing, there is a possibility that we assume, because we come equipped with two ears, listening is something that will naturally follow.  However, while hearing may come naturally, listening certainly does not. And yet, little attention has been paid to teaching us how to use our ears for the purposes of actually absorbing what is being said.

Think about it.  When we were little children we were taught to read and write.  In high school we might have learned how to debate effectively or write a coherent essay.  And, Later on, we might have had instruction on effective presentation techniques, or business writing.  We recognize these as developed skills.  In comparison,  there is little such instruction on the topic of listening because we tend to believe that hearing and listening are synonymous.

The truth is, anyone can hear. Listening involves engaging, not only the ears, but also the brain, in the process of receiving new information and assimilating it in the way in which it was intended…a whole different ball game.

So, the question is, how do we get to a place where we hear less and listen more?

I have a few thoughts on that and here they are:

  1. Make Understanding the Goal

Just to be clear, understanding is not the same as agreeing.  Often, when someone is speaking, we allow our own values and judgments to intervene prematurely and evaluate.   Because of this (and just as often) we fail to understand what is really being said.   Making understanding the goal means getting past our own biases and making space for someone else’s perspective.

2. Be Quiet

This seems simple enough.  But is requires some practice.   It’s hard to take in what someone is saying if we have crowded our heads with inner chatter; are waiting for our turn to speak; or thinking about what we are going to have for dinner.   Taking a little time to achieve some sense of quiet and focus on the person talking will help to achieve the understanding we need to engage in a meaningful exchange of information or opinion.

3. Use the Inquiring Mind

Let’s face it.  Even with the best of intentions, we aren’t always going to get to the intended meaning of every conversation easily.  And, when we don’t, it is tempting to pretend we do if only to advance the conversation and move onto something else.   But of course doing that takes us further away from the goal. So it’s not something we would want to make a habit of.  Asking questions for clarity however, is a great habit to get into.  It lets people know we are listening and it keeps the conversation on the right track too.

4. Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another good habit to develop when listening to someone speak.  This, by the way, is not about repeating word for word what we hear.  Instead, paraphrasing allows us to summarize in our own words what we have heard, without judgment.  If we are able to repeat what we understand the speaker to have said and the speaker confirms it as being what he meant, we have listened successfully.

Communication is one of the trickier activities to get right.  Last year,  I wrote another blog post called Lack of Communication You Say? It outlines some of the things that get in the way of our ability to communicate effectively with one another.  If you found this post of use to you, you may also consider checking that one out too!

Listening is a critical part of good communication.  What are your thoughts on it? What do you do to achieve understanding when you engage in conversation with someone?  What is your biggest challenge when it comes to listening to others?

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Lack of Communication You Say?

upon a time, I worked with banking executives.  They were all very good, smart people with a wide range of talents, skills and personalities.  However, when faced with a problem that involved people this sentence always seemed to come up.

“It’s a lack of communication”

It was kind of a throwaway remark that, once said, was somehow lost among the myriad of other important issues that required attention.  And yet, quite often, the root of a problem in the organization could be found under the heading of Communication,

Actually, the phrase, lack of communication is a bit faulty because it suggests that communication in organizations doesn’t exist. It does exist.  It just has a nasty habit of being dysfunctional

So what, in the simplest terms is effective communication?  Well, to me,   communication is good when you tell me something, and I understand it in the way you meant it.

It doesn’t sound complicated but we all know that, in reality, it is easier to say than to do.

So what gets in the way?

Well, a lot of things really, but here are three that come to mind for me.

  • Hearing but not listening

Listening is an art that requires time and concentration.  Generally, human beings aren’t that good at it and that’s why so many of our messages get lost along the way.

Listening requires suspending our own egos, opinions and thoughts to make room for someone else’s.  For example if I am nodding and looking at you while you are speaking but thinking about what I’m going to say next, I’m not really listening.  And, if you are doing the same thing, the words serve only to take us both further away from the real message. In essence, it becomes a game of verbal badminton rather than a meaningful exchange of information.

Good listening involves asking questions for clarification and repeating what we hear so that the message we get matches the message being delivered. And, it requires us to give some time over to learning about the perspectives and views of others if we are actually going to get something of value out of it.

  • Ass-U-Me

Oscar Wilde said “Assume and you make an Ass out of U and Me”. There is an element of truth in this.  At the very least, making assumptions about others when you have an important message to convey can certainly get in the way of their getting the meaning you intend.

For instance if you assume people know things, or have experience with things, they do not, and the clarity of your message relies on such knowledge or experience, chances are, they won’t understand what you’re getting at.

When we are busy this can easily happen but taking the time to ask some fundamental questions that will establish where people are, in relation to the message you want to send, will save time in the long run and be less frustrating for all concerned.

  • The Dreaded “Business Speak”

This has got to be one of the biggest reasons that understanding is lost between people in organizations.  For some reason, when we enter the front door of business life, our ability to speak plainly walks out the back door.

Speaking and writing plainly does not suggest lack of intelligence or knowledge on the part of the communicator, quite the opposite.  Someone who is able to get a clear message across with minimal head scratching on the part of the recipient is very clever indeed.

So the next time you are tempted to say something like,

“Going forward, we will dialogue about the deliverables, ensure that we have buy-in from all stakeholders and then circle back to close the loop on the project”,

you might want to reconsider and say something like,

From now on, let’s talk more about what we have to produce; make sure all those affected by what we are doing, agree; and then meet again to talk about how we might finish the project.

Just for fun, here’s a link to MBA Jargon Watch 2.0 – Where business jargon goes to die.

Something to think about:

How well does your organization communicate to its employees?  its clients?

What is working?  What needs to be fixed?  How would you do it differently?

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