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Friday, August 24, 2012

Hi! Manager, Cultivate the Art of Listening

Every season has its own sound. In spring there is the sound of ‘koyal’. In summer nights crickets pour out amazing sounds of their existence. In winter there is the grandest sound of all-‘silence’. Mothers calling to children connote that ageless, deep, abiding sound of love and caring. Yet, all these sounds make sense only to those who listen to it. So also, researchers say that “…the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.” Children listen to their parents reading stories, totally lost and involved in absorbing the flavor of the words. Somehow, in our journey to adulthood, psychologists say, we have lost that art of listening. Can we reboot it?

onsider the following scene, which we encounter at workplaces more often than not: a neatly dressed officer pushes the door of the manager’s cabin, peeps into it and after ensuring that the manager is alone hesitantly walks to the table of the manager and mutters, “Sir…”

The manager who is reluctant to ‘un-bury’ himself out of the heap of registers he is plodding through, reluctantly but casually says—“Yes?”

“Sir, I have examined the loan application and all other documents…… “ and realizing that the manager is not listening to him, he holds back his presentation.

The manager, after a while shouts, “Why have you stopped?.... go ahead; I am listening… what then?”

The officer mumbles, “Sir, I found that the applicant does not have environmental clearance for establishing the factory and so….”

“What clearance?” yells the manager.

Realizing that the manager is not listening to him, the officer excuses himself by saying that he will come later and explain the findings.

Is it not a pretty common scene across the organizations? That apart, what matters most here is the underlying message of the whole scene. It is clear from the narration that the manager being busy himself in another task is not listening to whatever the officer is saying and hence the distortions in the communication. There is yet another reason for our not listening to others: our mind, be it at workplace or otherwise, is often found over-crowded with all kinds of worries, concerns and interests. The worries could be of anything: maintenance of office records, impending audit inspection or about a family vacation, spouse’s health, etc. An exciting idea about execution of a project without time-variance could as well occupy the mind for quite a long time. That is not the end of the story: Once an idea or a concern gets disposed of, another thought or concern would immediately jump into the vacancy. Thus, a stream of thoughts constantly keeps visiting the mind. Preoccupied with such unending thought processes, we fail to notice that someone around us is making an attempt to talk to us or listen to what the other man is trying to say.

With so many distractions keeping us away from the rest of the world, if we have to listen, we have to learn to shut down these mental ‘noises’ and ‘tune-in’ to the speaker. Even this cannot guarantee a continuous listening to the speaker, since there is always the danger of our falling back into the on-going stream of thoughts. The result is ‘half-listening’. Indeed, mental preoccupation with ongoing worries, concerns and interests functions like ‘static’ on the radio, obliterating parts of speaker’s message and thereby distorting the intended meaning.

And any communication arising out of such distorted understanding of the speaker’s intended meaning is a potential threat to the continuity of smooth communication. Indeed, many communication problems stem from the intended receiver not listening the message carefully. Now, the question is why we should listen attentively.

Why should we listen?

It is essential for people at workplaces to listen attentively to one another for several reasons. Every manager at workplace has to practice active listening with his peers, superiors, customers and with everybody. The business expects him to interact, if he wants:

  • To know what the customer is saying.
  • To learn about the business needs.
  • To understand a situation.
  • To get information.
  • To be a team player.
  • To find out people’s needs.
  • To negotiate effectively.
  • To use money wisely.
  • To be more efficient and productive.
  • To evaluate accurately.
  • To make comparisons.
  • To get the best value.
  • To build relationships.
  • To solve problems.
  • To make intelligent decisions.
  • To stay out of trouble.
  • To save time.
  • To give an appropriate response.
  • To create ‘win-win’ situations.
  • To settle disagreements.
  • To be responsible.
  • To be valued and trusted.
  • To analyze the speaker’s purpose & to avoid embarrassment.
  • To satisfy curiosity.

In short, no manager who aspires to exercise effective leadership in his sphere of influence can do away with the paramount importance of ‘listening’. Against this backdrop let us critically examine what listening is all about, what makes us often poor listeners and how to overcome these hurdles and become good listeners.

We shall see next time how to Listen well...


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