Leading Edge

Listening a vital part of communication STANDARD terminology for someone who is deaf is “hearing impaired”. Interesting. Why don’t they say, “listening impaired”? Because there’s a difference between the two words. A crucial difference. But how many of us really know what that difference is?

To hear, we must have functioning ears. But to listen requires more than just physical ability. It requires a heavy reliance on our mental and emotional capacities as well. Powerful listening results in stronger relationships, deeper understanding and broader perspectives.

Good hearing is merely one of the five senses that allow us to take in what is going on in the world around us. Hearing is one-way communication. Listening is two-way.

Richard Bach, of Jonathon Livingston Seagull fame, sums up the essence of what listening is all about: “She let me listen to what I had said”, he says, referring to his wife. If nothing else, listening provides the speaker with an opportunity to hear and reflect on their thoughts.

But how often do we really listen? In this day and age, how can we find time to listen to others when we are so busy trying to get ahead ourselves? What we typically see are people pretending to listen, but in reality they are just letting you talk while they wait for the next opportunity to say what they want to say next.

Good listening, however, isn’t easy. Listening involves not only hearing what is being said verbally, but picking up the non-verbal clues as well. A great listener can pick up signals that help them discern the real message the speaker is conveying, which can often be quite different than the words they are saying. A great listener can help the speaker get to the core of an issue very quickly.

Good listeners also add value by noticing things that you, as the speaker, may not. Merely by listening well, they can form a perspective that you may not have considered previously.

On the other hand, people who have a habit of not listening, or worse still, pretending to listen, don’t do anyone any favours.

Imagine that you really needed to discuss an important issue with your boss. How would you like it if, two minutes into the conversation, they took a phone call, or kept glancing at their e-mail inbox for new messages? Pretty off-putting, right? Are you likely to want to go back to them next time you want to discuss something?

What if you’re the boss in this situation? How do you think your employees would respond to your distractedness? Sure, you’re busy, but what about them? And what role are you there to play, anyway?

When someone needs your ear, make sure you can afford to listen. You need to be able to listen without distraction. If you’re pressed for time, say so right up front. It might be better to schedule another time when you can give them your 100 per cent attention. A focused five-minute conversation is more effective than a 20-minute ramble.

Try this one on. An employee comes into your office, obviously needing to work something through. You’re busy, but you let him know you are willing to listen and help out. However, as he begins to talk he seems unfocused and his thoughts are jumbled. The conversation seems to be leading nowhere. What would you do?

Listening is more than just letting someone talk. Show you are really listening by seeking clarification when you are unsure of what they are trying to say. You can do this by asking questions, or by paraphrasing what you think they are saying. I find that when I paraphrase, if I haven’t heard correctly, it gives people the opportunity to clarify their point, not just for my sake, but for their own as well.

What if you strongly disagree with someone’s point of view? What if one of your team is sure that the best way forward is to increase sales through a major advertising campaign, whereas you think a direct marketing approach is the best way to go? Do you cut them off point blank, or give them a cursory five minutes to state their case, having already made up your mind?

Suspend judgement. Easy to say, not so easy to do. But if you don’t do this, you‘ll be transparent and regarded as such.

If you take the time to really understand the other person’s point of view, you can still make the final call whatever way you think is right, but you’ll have retained the other person’s respect for letting them be heard.

As Ken Wells, author of The Guide To Good Leadership, says: “A good listener tries to understand thoroughly what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but before he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with.”

Being a great listener has enormous benefits. You’ll gain a greater understanding of the other person’s perspective, broadening your own perspective. You’ll develop stronger relationships with staff, associates and friends. Your interactions will be more effective, with more defined outcomes. And. Of course, a greater respect from others, by through allowing them to be heard.

Add your comment

BNIQ sponsored byECU School of Business and Law


6th-Australian Institute of Management WA20,000
7th-Murdoch University16,584
8th-South Regional TAFE10,549
9th-Central Regional TAFE10,000
49 tertiary education & training providers ranked by total number of students in WA

Number of Employees

BNiQ Disclaimer