Most of us could seriously improve our listening skills.
Have you ever...
1. talked with someone who kept vigorously nodding their head as you spoke, yet when they responded, it was clear they hadn’t been listening?
2. had someone assure you they got what you were saying, yet when you asked them what they heard, what they fed back to you was not even remotely close to what you said?
3. shared an idea or point of view in a meeting and within one nanosecond after you finished, someone else piped up about a totally different topic...as if you hadn’t spoken?
Remember how it felt?
Doesn’t feel really good, does it?
When we don’t truly listen to others, we signal their lack of importance to us. We also miss out on important information that could help deepen our relationships and enrich our lives.
Non-listening in action
Here’s what happened recently:
I was working with a small group of managers from the same company. One of the managers shared about an interaction he had with his direct report which left him wondering how he handled it.
He had this nagging feeling he could have handled it better.
Two of his colleagues who had witnessed the interaction said they thought he did just fine because the person “deserved it.”
Then, a brave soul, who had also witnessed the interaction, spoke up and said that he had felt embarrassed for the employee. He then noted how his colleague had alluded to wondering if he could have handled it better, and given that, how might he do it differently in the future.
After a little back and forth, I noticed that the manager didn’t seem to be hearing what his colleague had said. He demonstrated a pattern I’ve noticed often with people requesting help for a problem:
Upon receiving feedback, they merely restate their problem, with no indication they heard the feedback.
Sensing that this was happening, I asked him if he could share with us what he had heard from his three colleagues.
“There really was nothing else I could have done.”
“Is that REALLY what you heard?” I blurted out.
Although perhaps not the ideal response, it was genuine. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
A bit taken aback by my shock, he stammered out a series of sentences that essentially communicated the take away message: “Well, yeah.”
I then asked the group what they heard and someone immediately pointed out the two different viewpoints they had hear.
Please answer MY Question Rather Than Change Topics
As I reflected on his example of not hearing some really useful feedback, I found myself remembering another group I worked with the previous week, where 2-3 individuals repeatedly “answered” my questions with statements that had nothing to do with the question.
Instead, they “replied” by bringing up an unrelated point or issue that they had been thinking about.
After the third time this happened, I remembered something my good friend and colleague Fran Liautaud shared with me: We owe it to our seminar participants to point out counterproductive behaviors and how they might be costing them in their everyday life.
So when the third instance came up, I asked the person, and the group as a whole, to notice how much “non-listening” was going on. I asked them to notice that the “answers” to my questions were really not answers to my questions.
I then asked them to think about when they’ve been on the receiving end of non-listening behavior and how that feels.
Finally, I asked them to be more mindful of interactions they have in every day life, and notice if they are truly listening.
Try it. Notice if you are truly listening, rather than:
1. Looking attentive while thinking of other things.
2. Plotting your retort.
3. Feeling a building urge to share something that’s on your mind, and waiting impatiently for them to finish so you can talk about what’s really interesting to you.
Also, notice how rarely you experience someone truly listening to you, truly trying to digest and understand what you’re saying.
It’s a rare gift, and it’s a gift we can give others.
So let’s all work on listening better. I’ll be doing it too.