One of the most powerful yet often perceived most difficult practices is the ability to listen. No matter the relationship we experience, we are unable, impaired, self-motivated or stubborn, to listen to the other individual we are engaging with. My focus here is the work relationship. Can we listen more with our colleagues and supervisors and what does “listening” really mean? You will ask “what does listening accomplish anyway?”
Listening for many can be a very painful experience. Listening requires you to become quiet and confront those thoughts, ideas and opinions you just do not want to hear or agree with. Those thoughts, ideas and opinions are often vastly different than yours to the point you could not never embrace them. We may think that engaging in active listening will detract from your own position and not move you forward somehow in the larger scheme of things. Face it, active and effective listening is rare and we think it requires a tremendous amount of energy and discipline. But maybe it is not as hard as we imagine when we see the positive effects, impact, transformation within others and ourselves. Most importantly, you witness your own transitioning to a level of understanding you did not anticipate. The act of listening will produce substantial changes for you, emotionally and professionally.
A friend of mine said today the person he would really like to listen to is the one who does not say very much and listens more often. My presumption is that the person who listens is more the wiser and has something to say when they eventually speak.
Can we listen more at work and talk less? Some may argue that if you do not get your point across first and dominate the conversation with your insight you will somehow lose the ground you have gained so far. Some people are motivated by impressing others in order to get ahead in the organization. Many like to give advice. I perceive the work environment to be like listening to a large gathering of televisions and trying to follow just one show. It seems everyone is talking, often loudly, but no one is really listening.
How to listen: It’s not rocket science, just quiet your mind and hold your thoughts and opinions. Do not react to what the other person is saying, but give them space and room to speak about anything they want. Also, calm your bodily movements and do not cross your arms over your chest (a perceived posture of non-listening). When you feel the urge to interject, still give the person more room to speak. You may ask ‘how long do you have to listen before you can speak yourself’? I have a rule which is often even difficult me to follow sometimes. You know the other person is finished speaking when there is a long pause and the person “asks” for your feedback. Listening may be simple in theory but more difficult in practice, but not impossible.
How does the other person benefit from your listening: When you give someone adequate room to vent their feelings, express their thoughts, attempt to resolve an issue of concern or dispute, you will open an avenue for growth and understanding within the other person. The energy on the other side is dissipated. The person’s perception of their relationship with you deepens and trust is developed. Once listened to, the other person is more open to hearing alternatives, some they necessarily do not agree with. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I cannot exhaustively list all the positive attributes that flow from active and compassionate listening, you just have to start the practice of listening to discover the positive impact you can make on your work colleagues and friends. There is a caveat however, you may gain more friends then you had before. Why? Everyone loves talk and be listened to. We tend to gravitate to those individuals who do what- listen more.
The overall problem today is that not everyone “voluntarily” listens. We think we have to listen because we have to for work purposes. If this is you, change your mental focus and mentally embrace whoever the person you’re listening to. After the conference call, try personally engaging the speaker, one on one, this is will be where effective listening can occur. If you find yourself in a work dispute or office politics are just not going your way, your act of listening can be extremely taxing. But your engagement in listening can have positive rewards for others and yourself. When you give your work “opponent” an opportunity to express themselves, you will obtain a deeper understanding of what facts motivate them or the lack there of. Facts you can later use when expressing your opinion, when the avenue of communication is less clouded by anger or frustration. I have a rule of thumb, probably born out of too many legal disputes, that opinions are just a series of facts forming a conclusion. I will restate the facts back to the speaker and confirm they understand what they said. Sometimes the speaker having listened to his or her own rationale pauses and realizes the facts lack foundation- opening an entry for further conversation and development of consensus.
How do you benefit from your listening: Simply, the quieter you become and the more you listen, the more you understand – others and then yourself. When you have exhausted the well of thoughts and emotions of the other person, only then you can communicate your opinions, beliefs, resolutions etc. The ultimate goal would be consensus between you and your colleague. Remember, active listening is a powerful tool in your arsenal, use it more and gain more control over your work situations.