“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.