“What are words for? When no one listens anymore.” The early 1980s song “Words” from Missing Persons aptly sums up today’s growing epidemic: the lost art of listening. Listening is a powerful communication skill and it’s on the decline. From the dinner table to the conference room table, people are tuning out loved ones and coworkers. In our case, we’re talking about listening in the workplace.
Here are some of the prime workplace culprits:
- The interrupter. This person likes to dominate conversations. They often display a lack of patience for others to finish sentences.
- The hyper facilitator. This person feels pressure to keep meetings flowing. Armed with an agenda, they move quickly from topic to topic. They often try to take conversations “offline” as opposed to letting organic conversations flow. Organic conversations often lead to richer outcomes.
- The screen zombie. This person is physically present but that’s about it. Their eyes never leave their smart phone or laptop screens. They might chime in from time to time, but their body language says they have more important things to do.
Employees want to be heard. They want to contribute and they want to be acknowledged. They want to feel like someone is listening to their questions or concerns and that they will do something about it. So what can leaders and their companies do to fine tune their listening skills? Here are a handful of ideas:
- Minimize opportunities for interruptions. Ask people to put smart phones or laptops away (unless they are using them to take notes).
- Hold meetings at another location if appropriate – outside or over coffee or lunch.
- Carve out listening or Q&A sessions.
- Cut down on email to be more present like one PR firm did. (See its blog about it.)
- Arm managers with frequent buzz worthy questions to ask at their staff meetings. Here is a link to some great questions to ask your team.
- Recap conversations before you end the meeting. For example: “What I heard is …” followed up by, “Did I miss anything? Anything else you want to add?”
- Email a recap of conversations to those in the meeting along with next steps. This particularly helps when people have had more time to think about the topic and might have more to add at a later time. It also shows you’re listening and that you plan to take action.
Charles Barkley is part of one of the most entertaining on-air TV crews covering the NBA. He’s fun to watch and we appreciate his candid opinions. He’s also not afraid to talk about issues related to race. He raised the issue of race during his recent comments about running back Adrian Peterson, but he committed a foul. When speaking about African Americans in the South and disciplining children, he stated, “Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”
Barkley offers his personal experience, but he doesn’t speak for every African American in the South. When sharing strong opinions with the media, avoid generalizations that place everyone under the same roof.
Controversies about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Richi Incognito and Aaron Hernandez reinforce a stereotype of professional athletes as a gang of outlaws hiding behind masks of money and fame. The frequency ESPN alerts our smartphones with reports of athlete misconduct is astonishing. Good reporters investigate whether these cases are isolated incidents or a reflection of a widespread problem. Bad reporters draw such conclusions without sufficient evidence. For example, during last season’s so-called bullying scandal involving Incognito, some reporters and TV hosts appeared desperate to prematurely declare that the incident revealed a widespread cultural problem within the Miami Dolphins.
The New York Times posted a story, “What the Numbers Show About N.F.L. Player Arrests.” The article points out USA Today keeps a database dating back to 2000 of arrests, charges, and citations of NFL players “for anything more serious than a traffic citation.” The writer addressed three conclusions that struck us:
- “The numbers show a league in which drunk-driving arrests are a continuing problem and domestic violence charges are surprisingly common.”
- “2014 is on track to have the fewest reported arrests since at least 2000.”
- “Thus over the nearly 15 years that the USA Today data goes back, the 713 arrests mean that 2.53 percent of players have had a serious run-in with the law in an average year. That may sound bad, but the arrest rate is lower than the national average for men in that age range.”
The NFL’s public relations strategy must not be one-dimensional. On one hand, the league must genuinely and in transparent fashion work to improve its problems and consider significant changes. On The Flip Side, the NFL should proactively address whether these incidents truly reflect the whole. The league should share personal stories of athletes improving society and their communities. Reiterate the good while addressing the bad. This approach is not whitewashing. This method helps place complex stories in proper context.
When the game is over, some reporters may still conclude athletes are little more than bodies of aggression and testosterone that spill into society. But at least provide that same society additional information to take into consideration.
Here’s a segment of Senator John McCain and former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney debating Obama’s foreign policy announcement. When conducting media training, we purposely interrupt people we interview to prevent them from finishing answers, gauge their responses and generally throw them off track. Media training participants often allow us to initially interrupt them and dictate the tone of the interviews. In this segment, we counted that Carney and McCain interrupted each other nine times. (If you’re keeping score, McCain eked out the interruption victory by a 5-4 margin.) Don’t let reporters or critics at an intense meeting interrupt you. Politely and assertively tell people you are happy to answer their questions or allow them to respond, but you want an opportunity to finish your thought. Networks may believe a parade of fierce interruptions makes for good TV. But by allowing someone to consistently interrupt and hand you a verbal beat down, audiences may assume you’re the moment’s loser even if facts proclaim you the winner.
If cybercriminals strike your company, prepare for the following questions from the media:
- How significant is the data breach?
- How many customers has the data breach impacted?
- How many company locations has the data breach impacted?
- What security had you put in place to prevent data breaches?
- How will the data breach impact sales?
- Have you identified the cybercriminals?
- When did the data breach occur?
- When did you first become aware of a potential breach?
- How did the data breach occur?
- What steps is the company’s security team taking?
- What outside security firms have you hired?
- How will your company handle any customers who see fraudulent charges?
- Will your company offer customers free identify protection?
- What steps should customers take to determine if the data breach impacted them?
- Will a company spokesperson appear on camera for an interview?
Two people watch themselves on the camera’s LCD screen while Keith looks through the viewfinder.
For a video, we interviewed someone who provided a series of excellent sound bites. But after the interview, two people mentioned to me they thought the woman spoke with a style that seemed forced.
Experience shows us some of the most frequent public speakers sometimes appear too polished. Their sound bites are excellent, but at times seem rehearsed as if someone is reciting lines they’ve delivered many times before. The people are overly aware of their presentation. They sometimes request to start over again when answering questions.
When speaking on camera, one of the goals is to sound conversational. In every day conversation with family and friends, you’ve probably shared a particular story more than once, but the story likely sounds slightly different each time you share it. You don’t try to tell the story the same way word for word. You don’t need to reinvent sound bites each time you deliver them, but they should sound fresh, conversational and not come across as scripted.
One morning we shot a series of interviews for a video, but two people scheduled to appear on camera unexpectedly couldn’t show up. The next day, someone who helped conduct the interviews explained a studio was available and we could talk with the people who didn’t make the initial shoot. She asked us if we should conduct the additional interviews. She explained the studio could call me and set up a background to our liking.
Lesson 1: Do you shoot additional interviews simply because they are available? In this case, we believe we did not need to shoot more interviews. The people we already interviewed were strong. Do you shoot additional interviews because people might feel left out? We don’t recommend shooting interviews just to make people feel included or to score points with a boss or strategic partner. Shooting more interviews for such reasons will likely weaken your video and make it less interesting.
Lesson 2: Will an additional shoot impact the budget? Is shooting the additional interviews worth the extra time and money you might need to invest?
Lesson 3: Will an additional shoot look out-of-place? We shot all of the initial interviews in the same location. Shooting new interviews in a studio might look strange. If we shot more interviews, we would recommend shooting them in the original location.
Outcome: In this situation, the client did not feel strongly about shooting additional interviews, so we didn’t.
Our latest video production voyage to San Diego makes me feel a little dirty.
We stop at an airport cafe because we are interested in overpaying for food. While a woman behind the counter asks me whether I want bacon with that, she appears to briefly place her glove in the tip of her mouth.
Now what? Do I suddenly pretend I’m no longer hungry even though I’m very much so? Do I confront her so, in her frustration with me, she does something worse when I turn my back? Option 3: Buy the breakfast and then conveniently drop it on the floor and wait for the plane’s peanuts.
During these crucial moments of split second decisions, I try to reason with myself. She is heating up the food, so that process should rid my meal of any potential cooties. I take a closer look and she seems clean. And she offers a friendly smile.
During these debates, the ludicrous also competes for attention with the logical. While I await for this controversial breakfast, I realize my hands are resting on a leather cushioned seat and I’m probably not the first to enjoy its comfort. Where’s my hand sanitizer? It’s not in my purse because I don’t carry one. Why worry about a young woman’s possibly tainted glove when my seat allows me the opportunity to practically shake hands with the general public?
I convince myself heat and my hunger outweigh the ridiculous and I attempt to eat the sandwich. Full disclosure: I attempt to eat it with a napkin, which didn’t work when the grease soaks through and makes the experience even more delightfully disgusting. Due to this sight, I decide not to finish my breakfast, instead feeding it to the nearest trash bin.
To be fair, the cafe impresses me by diligently creating a perfectly square egg for my breakfast sandwich. I don’t call it scrambled. I better describe it as congealed.
I wonder what’s on the menu for lunch. What would you have done?