istock_000006916716xsmallAre you a better talker or listener? Bosses and managers often believe if they are in control of their employees and tell them what to do everything will run smoothly. Employees can sit next to one another and still fail to communicate well. Placing sole emphasis on your speaking capabilities can build a false sense of how well you are doing as a leader or co-worker. Consider the other side to the equation- good listening. Be wary of the boss or employee who fails to listen – it is one of the root causes failing to perform to the best of your abilities.

Listening is powerful; it allows you to discover clues about yourself, others and your environment. It may provide some warning signs; which may be overt or subvert in nature. Speaking in “code” is more commonplace than you expect. If you hear phrases in your organization to describe certain actions, behaviors or people, chances are it is “code”. Terms have many meanings – take the time to understand the face value and underlying meanings.

So, how do you really see those warning signs when you are in the middle of a conversation? Do you find yourself doing some of these bad listening behaviors?

  • It is more important for you to be formulating your next thought than listening to your audience. Chances are you are missing some important information they are conveying to you. Try to keep the focus on the current topic.
  • You have already made up your mind on the subject. At this point, why even pretend to listen? I’ll bet the other person has already pegged you as being stubborn and closed-minded. One of the ways this often comes across is if you are being asked to reconsider a decision and you give them an answer immediately. Let some time pass before giving them your answer so they know you have taken their perspective in account with consideration.
  • Been there, done that. How many times do you go into a routine meeting – a well-oiled subject, only with different people? The tendency is discount the conversation. Next time you find yourself thinking you’ve been there, done that, turn it into a challenge. Listen intently to see if you can find a new kernel of wisdom or  idea instead of lending a deaf ear.
  • Your speaker lacks creditability. If you have already formed an opinion on the speaker, the likelihood of listening well is very low. Discounting can take the form of criticizing simple things such as clothing, looks or even voice. It is more important to focus on the message than the deliverer.
  • Failure to ask questions. They may think of you as someone who knows all or is not interested in the topic. Even if you believe you know what the speaker is trying to say, paraphrase it back to ensure understanding. Let yourself dig deeper into subject by asking probing questions. Learn about their intent or clarify their thought process – it will provide valuable insight into how they make decisions and why they act the way they do. Curiosity will play to your strength.
  • Allowing other distractions to interfere with your attention. Keeping your attention to the speaker will increase your ability to listen effectively. Leave your multitasking skills or daydreaming for another time. Kathy Sierra article on Your Brain on Multitasking, challenges the notion that we can do two different activities well at the same time. Active listening requires you to place full attention on the speaker.
  • Listening can extend beyond the words. Watch the speaker while they speak. You will learn more about their topic by paying attention to what they say (meaning), how they say it (intonation) and if, in person, their body language.
  • Your body language is screaming “I am bored” and I am disinterested. Your speaker will react more positively if you are able to give them some encouragement. Reinforce their message by acknowledging points by nodding your head or leaning slightly forward to them. Try not to interrupt their message with your counter points; however if you agree with something a quick “yes”, “I agree”, “I understand” or “I see” is acceptable.
  • Failure to give feedback to the speaker. People often have difficulty providing personal or contentious feedback to others. Consider using stories or examples as an easier way to convey your personal message. This method allows you to depersonalize the feedback by talking about a situation rather than the speaker.

In summary, listening is a skill which may be learned and to perfect it requires practice…and practice.