Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do You Hear What I Am Saying… Are You LISTENING?

How often have you muttered those words under your breath? 
How many times have you wanted to shout that question to someone who doesn’t appear to be absorbing what you are trying to explain, express, describe or teach? 
Listening takes practice and requires focused attention to the person who is speaking.  We often hear what our boss, colleague or customer is saying, but the challenge is to consciously listen for understanding.
Active listening is a strategy that successful people have mastered and integrated into their work style.  Active listening entails a deliberate effort to understand a message from the speaker’s viewpoint.  A skilled active listener is able to clarify meaning by rephrasing the speaker’s statements and reflecting upon what the speaker is trying to communicate.
Active listening is the foundation for developing empathy.
For example, when your boss starts to give you a hard time about a new initiative or deadline perhaps he is really upset because he just came out of a big meeting where the parameters of the project were changed.  By actively listening you can ask questions that will enable you to gain clarity regarding the deeper issue.   When trying to see things from his viewpoint you are in a better position to support him most effectively, which ultimately makes you a more valuable employee.
Empathy is the deepest form of understanding.  It occurs when you are able to imagine what it feels like for the other person.  Imagine if you were in your boss’ shoes. Studies show that when someone feels that you are trying to empathize with them they are more willing to struggle to understand your point of view and work with you as a valued partner.
Active listening is the foundation for successful negotiations
Your customer wants the sun, moon and stars from you by the end of the week.  You only want to give your customer one star this week.  There is a huge gap in expectations.  By using active listening techniques you can learn why the customer feels the need to get all three things by Friday.  You can let the customer know that you understand the request and that you recognize their needs.  You will be in a better position to explain how you can help while presenting your limitations.  You can work together to develop a solution that will be acceptable to both of you.
Conflicts are resolved faster and result in more positive outcomes when active listening skills are employed. During conflicts one of the biggest complaints is that the other person is not listening.   
You and your colleague are working on a project and you don’t agree on the division of labor or the timeframe for completion.  Before you learned about active listening you would have continued to state your point of view so that she could see things from your perspective.  People thought you were stubborn.  As an active listener you have learned to listen for feelings such as frustration, fear, ego related issues.  Using the information that you gather during your conversation you are able to diffuse negative emotions and get to the solution most efficiently.  You are able to turn the conflict into an opportunity for both of you to problem solve and grow professionally as you complete the challenging project.
The outcomes of active listening are very powerful.  It is a skill that successfully and extraordinary achievers use on a daily basis.
To actively listen you need to:
·         Ask questions to gain clarity.
·        Paraphrase what the other person is saying.
 ·      Make sure that the other person knows that you understand what they are trying to  communicate.
 ·        Listen for feelings
·        Become genuinely curious and interested in what the other person is saying.
·        Avoid passing judgment until you have a complete understanding of the issue and the other person’s perspective.
 ·       Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and perspective

Think about the benefits of active listening next time you get into a conflict, begin negotiating a deal or try to work with a challenging colleague.  The more you often you practice the art of active listening, the more natural it will become for you.  It will also make difficult situations much less stressful.
As Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Nature has given us two ears, but only one mouth.”  Try to take time to truly listen, be attentive, listen for feelings and try to genuinely understand what is being said.  You will be surprised how it will help you excel professionally.
Please share your active listening experiences and challenges with me.  I look forward to helping you move forward to achieve your career goals.

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