We spend 45 percent of our communication time listening, yet few of us think of listening as an active process. Listening is an active and complex process that relies on more than our inherent tendencies. Strong character development, self-awareness, and participation in the organization’s goals lead to better understanding of information. Proper listening will result in more accurate communication and more successful personal and professional relationships.
To improve the overall success of your organization, start with perfecting employee communication. Listening is a major and often ignored part of the communication process. Focus on evaluating that aspect first and then move into other areas, such as verbal communication and product knowledge.
Organizations spend enormous amounts of time and money trying to improve employees’ communication skills. Unfortunately, verbal communication gets the fanfare while listening skills go virtually unnoticed. The importance of good verbal communication falls onto deaf ears since many of us are well-skilled in the art of fake listening.
In our formative years, most of us developed the art of fake listening. We learned to appear engrossed in the classroom and at home, when in reality we were daydreaming about other more interesting things. We got away with being average students. But, in business, being average is not good enough. If we want to excel, get promoted, or earn a higher salary, we have to improve on this particular problem area. Since poor listening skills could be the silent partner that stops us from clinching important assignments or a reasonable pay increase, we must break our adolescent habit of not listening and learn how.
Active Listening Process: We must train our minds to be perceptive. Active listening is based on the ability to accept information for discussion. If we are narrow-minded or sluggish, then we cannot listen actively. Understanding the active listening process allows us to master our own listening skills and to target our own problem areas. Think of the process as an outline, write it down and follow it step by step. When you deviates from the source, back track and re-focus on the process.
Active listening techniques lead to enhanced relations and greater comfort in self expression. Supervisors are able to keep in touch with the opinions and problems of employees, which increases morale, productivity and professionalism. Being aware of the active listening process helps employees recognize attitudes and perceptions that may create communication barriers. Sometimes communication barriers can be overlooked since they are so obvious. For example, if employees complain or joke about an individual’s inability to comprehend information, that individual could either be unfamiliar with the job specifications, have certain mind sets, or simply not know how to focus on a topic for discussion, all which impede listening. If someone is difficult to communicate with, others may avoid speaking with him since more questions may be raised than answered. Or, if two colleagues have a communication block which inhibits their ability to get work done on time and to perfection, one party may be less interested in the job than the other and may be daydreaming about lunch instead of problem solving. Or, if one individual is so over-laden with work, there may be no time spared to listen to others’ needs and comments. In any case, with a careful assessment, employees’ communication techniques can be analyzed to understand how to conquer communication barriers.
Evaluate Employees’ Listening Skills: Recognizing the signs of poor listening is the first step to overcoming communication barriers. There are several reasons why an individual may have difficulty listening, but there are a handful of small flaws that become major problems if left uncorrected. Management with communication deficiencies can filtrate throughout an organization resulting in mis-communication throughout departments. Employees who know how to listen properly can side step certain problems, gaining the information they need no matter what obstacles are present.
Answer the questions below to target communication problems in the organization. If your answers do not resonate with our rationale, do not be discouraged. Many organizations have major communication problems due to the poor listening habits of employees. Poor listening is not always a noticeable problem and many organizations do not stress the importance of good listening skills.
Are employees receptive to new ideas? If employees refuse to break old habits, or allow negative attitudes to invade the work place, then improvement will be impossible. There are many reasons why we do not listen well enough to communicate properly and egocentrism is the most debilitating, especially within an organization. Often two heads will clash. Instead of brainstorming for a solution, a sparring match will ignite, eventually dwindling down with no solutions or progress made. Studies show that when listening, most people think about their own concerns rather than the speaker’s message. Our minds wander to more comfortable and amusing or troubling thoughts, instead of focusing on vital facts. Thus we become preoccupied, wasting company time and money. For example, we automatically tune out communication that does not personally appeal to us. By doing this we not only miss out on important information, but we damage our credentials by showing unfound bias. Employees must learn to leave their personal biases at home and view each co-worker as an equal and important contributor to the organization.
Sometimes You Must Do Only One Thing Well At One Time: Distraction is inevitable if employees are not in tune with personal and company goals and expectations. Although an individual may prefer performing tiny feats of self-adornment, such as reverse rotation thumb twiddling or cubicle spitballing, while listening, colleagues will perceive this restlessness as indifference, as well they should. While we are capable of performing simultaneous tasks, we never do more than one thing at once to perfection, especially when listening is involved. Being an active listener means listening 100 percent. Employees should not do anything which may distract themselves, others and the speaker, such as organizing their desks, answering the telephone, staring out the window, or tapping their fingers while listening. Distraction is not only caused by visual cues but by emotional ones as well. Examine the following subtle distractors to help formulate solutions to employees listening problems.
Make Discussion Part Of Your Meetings: If employees know they are expected to comment, they will prepare for meetings, becoming actively involved with the material prior to the commitment. In addition to working short term, this process works long term as well. Persisting that employees prepare for meetings may disgruntle a few hard-nosed individuals at first, but the benefits will become obvious to all involved. The outcome will be a consistently more informed employee, superior internal communications, and improved production.