Can you hear me now?

| March 27, 2017 | 1 Comment

We’ve all heard and said. “Can you hear me now?” Fifty years into the future it will most likely show up in a list of our current decade’s most frequent phrases. Some will say “No, they didn’t hear, let alone listen.”, but I hope not.

I’d like to notch up this discussion from hearing to listening. Two very different, yet connected, activities. We can all become better listeners and in the end, wiser people.

It’s not easy to listen well. There are so many distractions. Listening requires skill and practice. Emails, cell phones, unrealistic deadlines, perceived and real crisis – noise, lots of noise, these and many more represent environmental factors that thwart are best of intentions to listen. These distracters are often wearing the deceptive cloak of multi-tasking.

“Switching from task to task, you think that you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But, you’re not. You’re really toggling between tasks at amazing speeds.” – MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller. Apparently, we were never multitasking. It’s a myth. Not only are we not hearing, we’re not listening. Here’s a test. The next time you engage in a conversation that is about 10 minutes long, wait for 20 minutes and jot down what was said, what was most important to the speaker, what were they looking for, was there any resolution? Then ask yourself, “What did I learn from that exchange?”

Managers often fall into the particular trap of, “Here’s the answer.” It’s so easy. We’re busy. We know the answer, we don’t have time to listen to the story. This is a trap that I’ve fallen into too many times. One technique I’ve used with my folks is to provide them with a trigger phrase that says, “Put down your pen and listen to me!” The phrase is, “I don’t want an answer from you, I’m looking for a backboard to bounce my ideas off of, to talk it through.”

The art of listening is about actively seeking to understand. It is the foundation for thoughtful decision making. Great listeners are expert at asking respectful, probing questions. If you were to measure the amount of time they spending speaking and the amount of time they spend listening, listening wins hands down. The added benefit – they and others walk away from the meeting much wiser. They’ve learned things, they’ve allowed their assumptions to be tested, they make better decisions.

Here are two questions leaders can ask their teams towards the end of one of those gut-wrenching, marathon meetings, “Is there anything you think I should know, but don’t?” and “Is there anything I haven’t asked, but should have asked?” And then, listen, listen, listen.

A few years ago Bernard T. Ferrari wrote a great article in McKinsey Quarterly – a excellent resource on this topic: The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening

As I often like to remind myself, ‘keep the end in mind’. The next time you engage in a conversation listen with an intent to come away, not just smarter, but with greater wisdom which leads to better decisions.

Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening. – Mevlana Rumi


Category: Newsletters


About the Author ()

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

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  1. Ron says:

    Excellent article! I need to train myself to not move on to my answer, before I hear the story.

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