In a recent commentary (‘certainly, sir….what did you say again?’) Detroit Free Press Columnist, Mitch Albom complains (and rightfully so) how within our current fast paced highly technological universe, seldom, do people truly l-i-s-t-e-n. “Is it just me”? Mitch asks his readers “Or does no one in the service business listen the first time you speak? It seems that any transaction now requires at least one repeat. Sometimes two”. While Mitch directs his criticism about the lack of listening skills to the ticket woman at the movie; the clerk at Starbucks; or people in general whose business is to effectively serve the public, not listening can result in far more serious consequences.
As a matter of fact, at this very moment, someone is filing for divorce…because someone absolutely refuses to listen. At this very moment, there are companies all across America, somewhere, losing big time money…because employees are not listening. Consequences of one not listening can indeed be quite serious.
Of course, many people mistake “hearing” with “listening”. Often they will say “I hear the music playing” “I hear the birds singing”. However hearing and actually listening are different entities.
Once, at a Communication Arts conference, a brilliant blind professor shared that because she is without sight, she makes every effort to truly listen to what the speaker is actually saying. The blind professor shared that she utilizes each and every one of her five senses in order to fully comprehend (i.e. listen). She actually imagines herself smelling the wild strawberries being described by the speaker, or imagines herself touching the soft cotton being verbally described within a friend’s conversation, and she imagines herself intensely hearing the sounds within a story being verbally read. In utilizing each of her natural God-given senses, she can be assured that her listening skills are being fully utilized.
Not all of us go through such efforts as the blind professor, and as a result of not imparting some sort of effort to truly and completely listen to what is being said, chaos can often emerge; confusion can erupt and crucial mistakes can be made. Moreover and perhaps most significantly, one’s decision NOT to employ effective listening skills can often result in drastic interpersonal conflicts – (relationships destroyed) as well as professional conflicts (business accounts being closed costing the business thousands of dollars).
Former Gallaudet University President is deaf. Yet, interestingly, Jason M. Breslow, in his article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education (‘Gallaudet’s President on listening; leadership; and life’) informs us that the University President said to him via their interview that if there is one thing he learned as a College President “it is the importance of good listening skills”. As an example of University President I King Jordon’s high value granted to one’s ability to utilize their sense of hearing (to ‘listen’) writer Breslow quotes the University Presidents as saying “I’ve learned how life experiences lead people to different ways of seeing the world…But now I more often think ‘Why does that person see this differently?’ ‘What am I missing?’ ‘What experience led him to think this?”
Fact – If you can say to ANY Human Resource Director in the nation…..’I have EXCELLENT listening skills’, interview points will escalate to at least the ceiling.
In fact, Livonia, Michigan’s Schoolcraft College Human Resource Executive Director, Cindy Koenigsknecht, PhD says that “LISTENING SKILLS is one of the MOST CRITICAL skills in the workplace because it impacts EVERY communicative scenario”.
“Even frustration can build” says Dr. Koenigsknecht, within the professional arena as a whole, because sometimes “employees feel that they have not been HEARD by their employers…or that their words are going to deaf ears….because those in charge are NOT LISTENING.”
Mastering strategies and skills for effective listening skills is critical to a joyful personal life, and equally crucial for maintaining a prosperous and successful professional career.
In Bronwyn Frer’s Harvard Business Review article ‘Is Listening an Endangered Skill?’ the writer says that “I’m baffled as to why people can’t or won’t, lisen”. Today we’re locked into constant calls for our attention ” where we’re always scanning our BlackBerries for the next bit of news or opportunity. Multi tasking is the norm (despite some evidence that it prevents us from doing anything very well)” says Frer. Offering much food for thought, the writer concludes by asking “…Is listening an endangered skill??” Let’s hope not.
Various types of Listening:
A. Critical Listening – Listening for valuable information…listening to understand the difference in one’s ‘opinion’ or absolute fact… (Listening to a lecture in prep for an exam tomorrow; listening to the bank president before signing loan papers). This type of listening can assist the listener in not signing anything that will later be costly or regrettable (instead of receiving keys to the mansion on sunshine Blvd., one discovers to their devastation, a newly signed deed to that broken down bridge across the bay).
B. Creative Listening – Listening while working on a project that involves 2 or more. It’s crucial, especially in our increasingly team oriented global work place, to acknowledge that EACH person’s opinions and ideas must be heard and considered – to recognize that each team member has something valuable to contribute – often, a particular that you may not have considered. Not listening can be tremendously costly, especially in business.
C. Sympathetic Listening – Listening to a friend; colleague; or staff member…without budding in…without ‘judging’…without volunteering ‘advice’…without criticizing….Simply ‘listening’ sympathetically.
D. Therapeutic Listening – Listening to improve one’s life; or one’s relationship. ‘Therapeutic’ listening is seldom in practice via television shows like Jerry Springer, yet, always present on reputable talk shows like Oprah or Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, where a guest explains their problem and then listens therapeutically, as a psychologist or trained therapist/counselor offer suggestions to improve the situation.
So HOW can we improve our listening skills?
Stay Solely Focused on the Words of the Speaker
Avoid setting into motion any aspects of multi-tasking, while pretending to be ‘intently listening’. It can be quite easy to look at the speaker while simultaneously reminding one’s self that the cleaners around the corner closes on Monday, the car is past due for an oil change, or the babysitter has to leave in 45 minutes. Because one’s thinking speed is much faster than one’s speaking speed, it is critical to stay mentally in pace with the speaker.
Listen with an Open Mind
Incorrect thinking: “Oh, I don’t want to hear a thing he’s saying, he’s a Republican”.
Correct thinking: I need to listen to this person, who is a proven ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ in the topic that he is speaking about, because regardless of what political affiliation he selects to support, his words may in some way be of vital assistance to me, my family, my community, and my loved ones.
Share direct Eye Contact with the Speaker
Avoid looking out the window or the broken clock by the door, or the rhinestone buckle on your new belt buckle. Continuous and direct eye contact with that mortgage lender will promote clearer understandings, and help one to stay solely focused on the words being communicated.
Give the Speaker Some Form of Verbal or Nonverbal Feedback
A simple nod of the head to demonstrate to the speaker that you are on the same page with him or her, or a verbal “yes, I see” or “I understand” are both effective and courteous gestures that can assure the speaker (and oneself) that you are, in fact, comprehending the words being spoken. Allow the speaker to complete their sentences or their ‘train of thought’. Effective listening requires that the listener absorbs, if only for a few seconds, the actual words that have been spoken, before responding.
So whether one is servicing the general public as Mitch Albom describes within his most relevant – sign of the times – commentary; or one is simply listening to a customer; client; employee; or family member, listening is proven to be priceless. Being attentive to listening promote better chances of accuracy within business transactions and is a guarantee to clearer understandings within the overall work arena. Being attentive to listening promotes professional and effective interpersonal communication excellence.
To be attentive to truly listening, one MUST:
*Maintain eye contact with the Speaker
*Control Thinking Speed
*Avoid nonstop talking
*Give speaker verbal feedback (yes’ I see’ un hun)
*Do not be prejudice
*Do not have a closed mind
*Do not jump to conclusion
*Do not interrupt
*Utilize all senses