Tag Archives: listening

Listening, Hearing and Understanding – What is the key element?

storm clouds forming
Is a storm coming or is this after the storm? Without all the observation, one does not know.

When asked to list essential leadership skills, there may be a variety of items listed.  However, listening is definitely one that most leaders would say is a skill that is not only essential, but is one that needs to be tended and cultivated.  If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would have to say that listening is a skill that needs improvement.

There are lots of factors that go into how we listen and there are different levels of listening.  For example; there is the aspect of just hearing (what are the words that are being said?).  Our brains are interesting things.  Have you ever noticed that there are times when someone says something to you and you only hear bits of the sentence?  Then you realize what was likely to have been said?  Our brains are very good at filling in patterns.  Our brains fill in the blank spots.  And, sometimes we fill in with the wrong word or even the wrong sentence.  When we are really working on listening; it is important that we don’t fill in the gaps for the speaker. One has to stop and make sure that we have heard what was said, not what we thought was said.

There is the aspect of tone, how the words are being conveyed.  As listeners, we have all experienced a misunderstanding of what was trying to be conveyed because of the tone of the words.  For example, someone makes a comment that was intended to be a joke but the listener assumed the comment was serious.  Or, a speaker sounds angry and conveys that as anger to the person within hearing, yet it really wasn’t anger, it was frustration.

While we are “listening;” we really tend to be multitasking.  We are assessing the information being conveyed.  We are evaluating and making judgments.  We are preparing our response, questions, or what we are going to say.  We are processing and planning.  We aren’t necessarily really attempting to understand the information that is being presented.

The definition of listening is from a leadership perspective is to pay attention, pay heed. Listening is,  therefore, is not just an auditory skill.  Truly listening means that you have to gather information to understand what is being conveyed. This means that we have to understand the tone and other cues that are being provided with the words.  It is the lack of cues in emails, texting, tweets, and other forms of social media that is getting all of into trouble.  Just how do you convey cues in 140 characters or in a 10-second sound bite?

As leaders, we are supposed to be communicators. Which means that we not only have to convey the information, but we have to make sure that our listener is truly hearing what it is we are trying to convey.  We need to recognize when we aren’t listening and when our listeners aren’t listening.  We need to make sure that we aren’t just processing words and we understand the information and ideas that are trying to be conveyed.  We have to slow down and think about what is being conveyed, before we process, assess and respond.

A quick internet search will find a number of methods to improve listening.  There is the active listener method. There are the 5, 10 or 12 steps to becoming a better listener.  And, there are ways to practice, such as listening to audio books or summaries, working with a partner, and taking notes.  But, all of these require something more fundamental, the knowledge that most of us really don’t listen and that we have to be engaged in the process to listen.  Without this fundamental acknowledgment, you might as well be in a sound proof room.

Advertisements

And Winter is suddenly upon us…

Most of the U.S. is about to be gripped by winter weather throwing us headlong into the winter season, whether we like it or not.  These weather changes force most of us to change our normal routines, and may even have greater impacts like canceling events, trips, and completing specific tasks.  Yes, Mother Nature sometimes has to come out and announce that we aren’t always in charge.

 

For leaders, we can use this as a learning experience – finding leadership principals in a place where you least expect them and maybe even provide you with an opportunity to practice some new and/or rusty skills.  For example:

–          Adaptation – I once had a colleague that said they would never hire a person who did not at least play a video game at some point.  His reasoning was – that you can plan for several possibilities, but the game usually results in an unanticipated or an unexpected change that forces you to adapt.  Winter weather forces us to adapt to changing conditions, availability of resources, and sometimes how we have to accomplish the task. (How are you going to get that project done, if the network is down? Or, you can’t physically make it to the meeting in Chicago?)  As leaders we all have to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.  So, use this time to practice a bit – do you have a Plan B or C or D?

–          Reflection – When you are stuck in the airport due to a flight delay – how do you use that time?  Or, all of a sudden you don’t have to take that trip or go to that meeting – how do you fill the void?  You might take this time to do a bit of reflection.  As leaders, we need to build in time to our schedules to reflect on how things are going. What resources could have been better used?  Do you have the right tools?  Use these unexpected down times – to start practicing the art of reflection.

–          Listening – In the din of all the noise, preparation, and chaos of the season – there are times when the office is empty or you are walking to the car and snow has created a hush.  You might reach into your toolkit and really start listening to the important things.  Because of the noise you may have to really focus – thus you are practicing listening in the extreme.  Similarly when you get the extreme quiet – you need to focus on the individual sounds – again practicing listening at the opposite extreme.  Use this time to sharpen that underutilized skill.

I am sure you can find some other leadership skill opportunities – networking at holiday parties, practicing patience, and renewing a sense of excitement and wonder.  Take this opportunity to look for ways to improve your skills, while dealing with the challenges that life places in front of you.

Enjoy this time – it is a time of awakening and growth.