The art of truly listening
- By Jennifer Warawa -
- Feb 27, 2013
It’s a crazy busy, multi-tasking, information overloaded, multiple-device kind of world out there. You likely have very little time to just 'be' – to step away from the hectic pace, turn off your incoming texts, emails, tweets and Facebook messages and just relax. However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there are side effects of this information rich, 24/7 world we’ve created, and one of those side effects is the decline of an individual’s ability to truly listen.
First, let’s define listening. Years ago, listening was your ability to have a conversation with someone and hear, consume and understand what they were saying. However, what were you listening to? Think back just ten or 15 years and chances are you were listening in only one of two ways – to conversations in person or on the phone. Here’s the difference… back then you weren’t doing multiple things while you were listening. If you were on the phone, the phone was more than likely attached to the wall (gasp!) and you couldn’t roam about your house doing dishes, folding laundry or sending emails during your call. If you were chatting in person, you weren’t simultaneously checking emails, responding to texts, updating your Facebook and checking in on Foursquare. Bottom line – the person you were talking with had your undivided attention.
Flash forward to today. People find themselves responding to a text or finish a report while they are in a meeting. Or, maybe they are catching up on emails while they are on an important call. After all, there is too much to do and not enough time to do it… right?
How often have you been in a meeting, either via a phone conference call or in person, and when asked for their input, someone has had to say “Can you please repeat the question?” (and although you’re embarrassed to admit it, it’s likely you’ve even had to do this yourself). How often has someone responded to one of your emails asking for more information and you’ve had to reply “I included that info at the end of the email” (if they’d only read down to the bottom!). And last, but just as importantly, how about your significant other? Have they told you something that caught you off guard and when you asked “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” their response was “I did. Last week. Remember?”
In today’s world, listening isn’t just an audible exercise - it’s about being engaged: fully consuming and making an effort to understand the message in its entirety, regardless of what format it’s received in. It’s often about reading between the lines in an email to understand what the writer is truly trying to convey. Maybe there are clues about career challenges, struggles with a project or just general dis-satisfaction. Maybe an email was an employee’s cry for help and because you only had time to gloss over it, you missed their message all together. It’s no wonder so many people today feel disconnected or unheard – most people don’t have time (or make time) to listen.
As the speed of information flow picks up and the many mediums we use to communicate increase, your listening skills, regardless of whether you’re reading or hearing the message, are vital. Effective listening is one of those differentiators that separates the best from the rest, whether it’s in leadership, management, marriage, friendship, family and even spirituality.
Take some time today to step back, assess how well you’re really listening and give the communication you receive your full, undivided attention. And yes, this will mean less multi-tasking. It can make all the difference in the world.
Image from grafixtex on Flickr
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