09.07.2012 Leadership and Leadership Development 2 Comments

“But I don’t have time to listen!”

Everybody knows, and all my experience as well as the reading and research I’ve done on the subject confirms: listening, with empathy, congruence, and acceptance, is more than a good thing; it’s essential in building relationships, trust, and performance in an organization, a department, a team, or a work group. I’m sure most of you are nodding your heads in agreement. It’s one of those “truths we hold to be self-evident,” to put it in the spirit of the Independence Day season.

Yet, too often, we do things other than listen. What do we do? Among many other things, we

• ask questions that may, or may not be relevant to the speaker

• problem-solve, or give unsolicited advice

• offer reassurance, or harsh judgment

• give praise, or criticism.

Some find it hard to listen, especially when they disagree with what another is saying. Some mistake “hearing” for “listening,” using mute silence when another is speaking, without interacting with them. Some don’t know how to get a word in when faced with another’s strong emotion or non-stop monologue.

What to do?

Listening works best when there is a need for it! Use Reflective Listening when:

• accurately understanding the information the other person is conveying is important to you, to the team, to accomplishing the goals of the organization, and/or

• you’re important to their success, or they’re important to yours, and/or

• the other person has a strong need to talk, and/or

• the relationship with the other person is important to you, personally or professionally.

If you don’t have time to listen, it’s your right, and, really, your obligation, to let the other person know this. But also let them know when you can give them some time.

How does one listen reflectively? Focus your attention, on both the words and tone of the speaker. Encourage the speaker to expand on what they want to say with phrases such as “Tell me more” and “Is there anything else?” And use sentence-starters such as “The main point for you is …” and “The bottom line is …” and “In your opinion, we have to …” to help summarize the gist of the speaker’s message and to demonstrate your understanding of it.

Help a person who might ramble to get to the point by helping them focus on their main message. It could be that they’re thinking out loud, or they might be continuing to speak because they don’t know if you understand them. Reflective Listening will assure them that you do. Clarify the key ideas by breaking in with shorter, more frequent reflections. This also will model brevity for the other person, and it shortens the time it can take to solve a problem by getting to the issue more quickly and accurately.

The more skillfully you can use the tool of Reflective Listening, the more time you’ll ultimately save by getting at root causes to problems more quickly, and by engaging your co-workers to honestly share ideas on solving problems sooner, rather than later. You’ll build trust, commitment, and improve productivity. This will enhance your reputation and skill as an exceptional leader.

2 Responses to ““But I don’t have time to listen!””

  1. Mark Britz says:

    Solid post Ken. As I read I pondered how these ideas, which are designed for face-to-face or other synchronous communication environments, apply to asynchronous communications. Even my response to your post here is an example or in the form of tweets, etc. People post in an effort to connect, share and build community. As a “listener”, how are reflective practices conducted and evident in online conversations? Are or can it be done similarly and with equal success? You’ve got me thinking :)

    • Ken says:

      Good questions, Mark. I think, especially given the a-synch nature of a lot of online posts and practices, reflective listening would be at least as important and impactful to clarify understanding and prevent miscommunication through assumptions and interpretations. We know that we perceive up to 93% of the speaker’s meaning through non- and quasi-verbals, and only 7% through the actual words spoken. With written communication, we could potentially lose that 93%; for certain, all we have is the written word. Imagine how “reflecting”–in writing–could improve dialogue on line!

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