I used to be a linguist.* Apparently, once you’re a linguist, you’re always a linguist (and once an editor, you always spell “you’re” correctly). So I have some thoughts on words.
We all like to talk, at least those of us here at Hermit Haus. But, do we like to communicate? Sometimes we like that better than other times.
To communicate, the people involved need to both talk AND listen. It can feel pretty bad to have explained something, provided some information on a project, or given some news, only to have someone ask, “What did you say about that?” later in the conversation or the next day.
I read an article that said 40% of what makes an effective manager is listening skills. It doesn’t hurt as an employee, either. Funny enough, we all think we have good listening skills. Literally, all, according to the article. Sigh. Ain’t true (you are allowed to say “ain’t” – trust me, I’m a linguist).
People who don’t feel heard in a business setting can experience:
- Lowered morale
- Disincentive to participate further
- Decreased trust of team members
- Lessened motivation to pay attention, themselves
No reference. I totally made this up based on personal experience. Or maybe it’s something I read by Deborah Tannen.
What to Do?
If you’re the non-listener…
If you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves (and not just because they are always ten feet away from their speakerphone), or find that everyone on the team knows something you don’t, then you might have a listening problem. Now, as Lee pointed out to me this morning, people with listening problems probably don’t identify themselves as having a listening problem, and probably aren’t real blog readers, but just in case…here are some ideas that can help:
- Take notes. That forces you to pay attention. Or, in Lee’s case, have Mandi take notes.
- Ask questions for clarification. If you miss out on a detail (traffic issues, phone distractions, whatever), ask for help during the meeting or conversation. Don’t just assume it’s fine to skip content.
- Remain in the moment. Don’t plan your grocery list, compose your next zinger comment, or mentally work on problems not related to the topic at hand. Do that later.
- Stay on topic. Deflecting the conversation away from the current topic is a big sign you aren’t listening, and certainly won’t endear you to other participants.
- Eliminate distractions (put away electronic devices, avoid attenting meetings phone meetings while driving, put the dogs outside).
- Offer helpful suggestions that move the conversation forward (conversely, issuing orders or delivering lectures tends to shut down conversation).
“Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.”
What great listeners actually do, by Jack ZengerJoseph Folkman (2016)
- Practice. When chatting with your partner or friends, practice your listening skills. If you’ve developed unhelpful habits over a lifetime, it may take a while to create new patterns. It can’t hurt to practice listening to one’s intimates!
Also you can read this fine article from Harvard Business Review for additional excellent ideas.
If you’re the one not being listened to…
Consider whether your own communication style is affecting the conversation. Do you give others a chance to participate? Are you repeating the same thing over and over, as if you don’t think you were heard in the first place?
Conversation goes back and forth, so all participants have a role in making it better. To engage listeners, you could:
- Ask questions to check that you’ve been heard (or better, to actually solicit input you want). “Alfred, what are your thoughts on this?”
- Address perceived misunderstandings in the moment. “Brody, are you saying you don’t want to do what we’ve agreed to, or do I misunderstand you?” (This one’s important; misunderstandings in our business can cost money.)
- Watch your nonverbal communication cues and tone of voice. Deep sighs, sarcasm, crossed arms…you know what I mean. “Harvey, your growls seem to indicate disagreement. What’s up?” You don’t have to be Little Suna Sunshine, which comes across as insincere, but the idea is to sound open, yet confident. Confident is not the same as aggressive.
Well, this doesn’t exactly sound easy, does it? That’s why we practice! Good communication is more than just nodding and saying “Uh-huh,” and there are lots of ways in which it can go astray. And none of us are perfect (I recognize myself in a lot of those bullet points.)
The most important thing to do is commit to being a good business communicator and be aware of how you or your colleagues may be sending your team down the expensive path to inefficiency or waste. Or worse, you could create an atmosphere of distrust or antagonism.
I’m going to keep paying attention and work toward good communication among my team members (at both my jobs!). Are you with me?
*A linguist is “someone who studies language or is a researcher within the field” (Wikipedia) and not necessarily someone who speaks multiple languages well. Es verdad.