The impact of not listening is enormous and multi-dimensional. Think about the economic/strategic cost of not being contextually aware or missing critical information when making a decision. Consider the harm done to critical relationships between employees, employees and customers, and/or leaders and their many stakeholders. Contemplate the emotional impacts such as disengaging because you don’t feel valued at work or home, a co-worker not sharing valuable insights because they don’t feel respected, or a family member getting depressed because they don’t feel understood or supported.
Being heard is one of the biggest needs we have. Truly being heard makes us feel recognized, respected, understood and valued. Truly listening means you are recognizing, respecting, open to understanding, and valuing another person. Yet, many of us frequently do not feel like we are heard or being listened to.What gets in the way? While the list is endless. I’d like to start by focusing on two barriers to effectiveness listening (filters and distractions) and share a few steps we can take to reduce and remove these starting tomorrow.
Barrier 1 - Filters
Think about air filters in our home, they are meant to take out impurities in the air we breathe. Over time though, they get dirty and clogged and ultimately hinder the airflow. In the same way, we have mental filters that hinder the flow of information and ideas. These filters stem from things like assumptions (we don’t invest in frontline employees because they turnover too fast) or beliefs (of course everyone will own a car) or mindsets (they only look out for themselves). Each of these filters prevents us from receiving and processing what could be critical and valuable information.
Strategies to reduce and remove filters:
1. Identify them – take a few moments and think about the people you communicate with most frequently and identify the filters that affect how you listen to them. Being aware of your filters is the first step.
2. Challenge them – What if our assumptions, beliefs or mindsets are wrong? Consciously refrain from pre-judging what someone says without taking the time to be open to understanding and valuing what they are saying or have said.
Barrier 2 - Distractions
We are buffeted by distractions all day. These include, but are not limited to, environmental distractions like other conversations or background noise, the incessant and constant flow of information and notifications coming from our phones, and the lists of things to do we have in front of us and personal (internal) distractions like not being interested/being bored, wanting to do something or be someplace else, or focusing what we are going to say next instead of listening to what is being said before we worry about what we are going to say.
Strategies to reduce and remove distractions:
1. Review your last week and identify the things you were distracted by whether at home or work – both environmental/external distractions as well as personal /internal distractions. As with filters, being aware is the first step.
2. Make better choices to reduce environmental distractions. Consider finding someplace quiet where you will be less distracted and better able to pay attention. Make the decision to turn off your phone completely to show the other person you respect them and want to listen.
3. Stop multitasking. It’s impossible to show someone that you are listening if you are working on something else. Worse, you are not going to be listening fully to hear and understand all that is being said (verbally and non-verbally). Make the choice to be fully present.
These are just a couple of the barriers that hinder us from listening to others and helping them feel heard. These barriers did not develop nor will they disappear overnight. Reducing and removing these takes conscious choice, effort, and determination to change.
While we discussed the adverse impacts at the outset, the economic and personal benefits of listening better and enabling others to be heard are innumerable. They include strategic and economic benefits from better decisions being made, organizations being responsive and/or proactive versus reactive, and improved collaboration which drives greater effectiveness and efficiency. On the personal/interpersonal side, emotional stress is reduced, people are more engaged in what they do, and relationships are strengthened and become more resilient.
So, JUST LISTEN! It makes dollars and sense.
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