Are You Really Listening?

“Listening at home or work is not a luxury — it’s a necessity.”
Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D. and Mary E. Siegel, Ph.D.

Listening is important to growing as a leader. Why should you care about determining if you are a good listener and improving those skills?

  • You pay a price–one that may not be fixable–if you don’t listen.
  • You improve the clarity of the communication in your relationships.
  • You strengthen your primary relationships and give them deeper meaning.
  • You can better resolve conflict on the team.

Are you really listening? 
This is actually the title of one of my favorite books about listening, by Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D. and Mary E. Siegel Ph.D. If you have a chance to check this book out, do it; you won’t regret it. The first step to improving your listening is to recognize that you don’t listen. Most of us don’t listen.

We hear what is most important to us, not what what’s important to the speaker. You may be doing things that contribute to you not listening. Next time you are having a conversation with your team or an employee, pay attention and look for these cues. Are you doing any of these?

  • Becoming Defensive. If you are defensive about what is being said, you aren’t really listening. You are reverting to a form of self protection, and in turn only thinking about yourself.
  • “Me Too” Identifying. This behavior comes from the need for attention. While you may think identifying with the speaker is a form of empathy, taking it too far can make the conversation shift into more of a competition than an exchange. It’s really just a way for us to talk more about ourselves.
  • Giving Unsolicited Advice. When you start to give advice, you presume a lot of things that may not be true, such as that the speaker has not considered your recommendations. People crave understanding and true listening more than advice in many cases.
  • Judging. When you judge, you move the focus off the person to whom you’re listening and make an assumption about them. How can you really listen if you have already determined that they are just like someone else? Check your biases at the door and listen with an open mind.

Listening Goes Beyond the Audible – Both verbal and non-verbal clues are important to listening.

  • Make sure to hold eye contact.
  • Pay attention to both your own facial expressions and those of the speaker—what do these expressions convey? Boredom? Interest?
  • Note both your own posture and the posture of posture of the speaker.

If you take the time to think about whether you’re really listening, and identify how you can listen better you will improve mutual respect across your team, facilitate effective decision making, and cultivate an environment where teamwork thrives.

Suggested Reading:
Are You Really Listening? By Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D. and Mary E. Siegel Ph.D

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