Are You Listening Or Just Letting Me Speak?

‘The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place’
George Bernard Shaw

We know that good communication depends in good measure on listening but we mostly spend too little time thinking about what that really means. Listening is usually passive, in the sense that it requires no conscious effort. Always on, we simply receive information, but how we choose to pay attention matters.

Habitually many leaders have bad habits when it comes to listening:

You are allowed to talk.

I say I’m listening but actually what I mean is that you are allowed to talk. I am not talking but neither am I actually listening. I reassure myself by ticking off the box which says it’s a good idea to listen to a range of views and opinions. If I reflect back on what you just said, I have to admit I have no idea, though I’m vaguely conscious of your mouth moving.

I’m waiting to talk.

You are currently talking, which is annoying because I would like to be talking. I am thinking about the excellent point I am about to make. Whilst I am doing this thinking, I have no attention left to actually listen to what you are saying.  If I reflect back on what you just said, I have to admit I have no idea, though I’m vaguely conscious of your mouth moving.

You are a woman.

(Or from a minority or quite young or from a school I never heard or basically quite different). You are on the team because you are very smart and committed. I like that you are on the team. When you speak, I am wondering what the traffic will be like this evening. I don’t know what you are saying, mostly because I don’t think what you say matters much. In a few moments Henry will probably repeat the exact same point you are making and I will tell him what a great idea it is. (See too, Am I A Di**head?)

The truth is that listening is effortful. the effort is representative of the fact listening is a skill, it requires practice and investment. When we listen and really hear what is said we are open to new ideas and information – we may change our views or decisions in consequence because we were open minded, willing to learn. When others know that we can and will listen they are also far more willing to speak up and contribute fully. Good listening also communicates a genuine care, concern and respect for others as well as a curiosity to search out meaning, new ideas, perspectives and wisdom.

It is no coincidence that the very best leaders ask more questions and spend more time listening than talking.


Related Posts

Do You Know Any Good Stories?

Amos was an old Askari, a night watchman in the highlands of Kenya. He told me once how electricity had come to their village and that it made him sad because they no longer gathered around the fire together to tell stories. Instead, each stayed in his own house, enthralled…

Read more
car laid out in pieces
Good Teams Are More Than The Sum Of The Parts

Have you ever wondered if your team is any good? Not just competent or functional but actually good, in the sense of being able to realise its full potential.   Over 90-percent of employees believe teams are critical to the success of their organisation but less than 2-percent of them…

Read more
Team de-brief
How To Improve Team Performance by 25%

Twenty five percent is not a small number, definitely not a marginal gain! It’s a huge uplift, achieved through the application of a single team habit. The use of After Action Reviews.   After Action Reviews, (AAR), sometimes referred to as Retrospectives in the language of agile planning are a…

Read more
Team eating together
Face to Face = Better Teams

A good habit of British Army Regiments is the informal convening power of the Officers’ and Sergeants’ mess. Mid- morning, officers and NCOs will leave their various departments and sub-units and meet for coffee. It’s not mandated but this informal routine interaction drives a surprising amount of productive business. Far…

Read more