You are at your desk at work and hear a conversation two colleagues are having down the hall. They call out and ask, “Did you hear that?” You respond that you hear them, but you weren’t listening. That’s because there is a big difference between listening vs. hearing.
A major difference between the two is focus. To truly listen to someone, you have to focus on what they are saying. If you are thinking about what you want to say next, you are not listening. If you are mentally adding items to your to-do list, you are not listening. And if you are checking your phone, you are definitely not listening.
You Never Listen to Me
How many times has your partner or someone else complained that you never listen to them. “I heard you,” you say. And yes, you may have heard them, but because you weren’t truly listening, you didn’t absorb the information.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “active listening.” It’s used a lot because truly listening to someone requires action, whereas simply hearing someone is passive. To actively listen, you must shut out all distractions, including the ones in your own head.
When you are actively listening, you make eye contact and give non-verbal cues, like a head nod or smile, that you are picking up what they are putting down. If you are on a phone call, you occasionally interject an “I see” or “mmm hmm.” When the other person finishes speaking, you seek to clarify anything you didn’t understand, either by asking questions or reiterating key points. You acknowledge and affirm. (Check out this tutorial the team gives Dwight in The Office.)
Listen to This
If you are a leader in your organization, it’s just as important for you to listen as it is to speak. In fact, the only way you will know if your employees are listening when you speak is if you listen when they do. If everyone listens well, you will head off many misunderstandings and problems before they occur, saving time and money.
Beyond that, modeling good active listening skills will make the rest of the team feel that their contributions are valued, which will improve morale and group dynamics, as well as inspire them to voice their ideas and concerns with confidence. If you aren’t listening, you are likely missing out on key information that might affect your business.
Why Listening vs. Hearing is Hard
If this all sounds like a no-brainer to you, here’s the caveat: active listening is not as easy as it sounds. That’s because we are human.
Many of us thrive on competition and multi-tasking. It’s hard to keep our brains focused on what someone else is saying. As ego-driven beings, we are wired to try to think about what we will say next, or what we can do to top the idea being presented. We want to be better, faster, stronger. But it takes strength to put our own impulses on hold, stop and listen. If you rank high in Performance Dynamics® for Energy, Dominance or Competition, you may find listening especially challenging.
Over the next few days, take note. Are you truly listening when someone is talking to you? Try to exercise your listening “muscle” and see if communications improve. If you’re struggling to make this happen, we can help. Reach out to learn how.