By John Bradbury
I started my operations career at age 24 as a Supervisor in a large factory in Liverpool, UK. I was given the role of leading 50 employees in a high pressure manufacturing environment and to say this became a steep learning curve would be a masterpiece of understatement.
Many years later, I now realise that the interpersonal skills I have since learned would have been very useful when I began my career. I want to share some of these skills with you to support you to be successful. Much of this information may create the reaction “But that’s just common sense” True, but is it common practice? Is it your practice?
The first in this series, and possibly the most important, is the value of listening. Here are some thoughts and tips about listening;
1. Listening to people can have a powerful impact on them. It creates engagement and motivation for someone when they feel heard and understood.
2. It only takes one person listening to impact the interpersonal relationship between two people. If I focus on listening to you, I hear and understand more about your thinking and you feel heard by me. We are both affected by my improved listening.
– We all listen with filters. Examples of some filters are:
– I’m too busy for this conversation
– I know the answer to your problem
– I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next
– I’ve heard this before
There are many more examples.
3. Filters reduce the quality of our listening, and whilst I can choose to “park” my filters i.e. put them to one side, I can’t destroy them. To park my filters, I need to become aware of and sensitive to my filters.
4. The level of my curiosity about what you are saying is my feedback for how well I am listening. When my level of curiosity is low, deliberately raising it is one way of “tuning up” my listening.
5. When you aren’t listening to me, I can find the words to respectfully point that out. I can give myself permission to challenge you because I want to be heard and understood.
6. Listening intently to what you say doesn’t mean that I have to agree with everything. By listening well, I can be more discerning about what I agree with.
7. I can replicate i.e. repeat back to you what you’ve said to make sure we share a common understanding. This might feel a bit clunky at times, however, when this behaviour is practiced, it can be a powerful activity in an organisation, especially when you are trying to get something done. It’s what is heard that matters, not what is said when we are trying to influence action.
8. I can get better at listening by choosing key moments to practice such as during important meetings or when I am making or asking for commitments.
Putting it into practice – 2 listening techniques that will have an impact
1. Choose two or three people you find it difficult to listen to and make a point of stopping, paying attention and really understanding what they say before you think about saying anything. Check with them that you have understood what they said. Do this in a conversation with them with everything they say. What reaction did you get?
2. Think of the regular meetings you attend and what filters you have going into those meetings. Choose three meetings each week for the next few weeks where you will notice your filters going into the meeting and choose to consciously put that filter to one side and focus on what is happening and what people are saying in the meeting.
Was the experience any different?
Please let us know how you get on with these techniques – just drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bottom Line is this; when people start really listening to each other, the culture starts changing. There’s really no excuse for not becoming a better listener.