Now listen very carefully… I will say this only once!

Trainer Frank Newberry asks if we are really listening to each other in meetings at work or whether we are just competing to get our point across? He looks at the pitfalls of not actively listening and shares a little tip for those of us who need to improve our listening skills.

I had always known, but had somehow forgotten, just how demotivating not being listened to can be.

It seems obvious to me now - thinking back. Nowadays, people tend to listen to me and take me seriously; well, most of the time! I had rather forgotten what my work life was like when I was younger, shyer, and quieter.

Discounted and dismissed in the workplace

A powerful sequence of learning moments exposed my temporary ignorance recently when three female supervisors complained to me that their views were being discounted and dismissed at work and, consequently, they now felt discouraged and diminished by the reactions of their male colleagues.

When I later tackled the male team members about this, they fervently denied the accusations claiming, in fact, that the opposite was true. They believed that their female colleagues were talented and accomplished. One almost took offence saying he had only ever worked for female supervisors.

How could these strongly held opinions be so opposed?

Well, the male team members had told me earlier, in answer to another question, that their supervisors should 'be more direct' and not 'take things so personally'.

Next day, at an event for male and female supervisors, there was clear evidence on show that male supervisors do interrupt and do not acknowledge the female supervisors in workplace discussions.

On no less than three occasions when I called out (in real time) that the females' views were being ignored - the male supervisors looked up briefly and then carried on talking to each other.

Not just ignoring, they were quite oblivious to this fact

At this point I had to intervene in their discussions because, not only were the male employees ignoring the female staff, they were quite oblivious to this fact.

Now a case could and has been be made for the female supervisors to speak up and be more assertive in work discussions.

For the moment, I can report that, in this organisation at least, the male supervisors nearly always compete for attention in debate (not always listening) - whereas their female counterparts do not - often preferring to wait to be asked for their views.

The people cited in this example were all middle aged, confident people. Maybe you, like me are now asking yourself the question - do we (all of us) really listen well enough to other people at work?

Do we really listen?

Do we really listen to younger people, quieter people, people from other cultures and so on? If we think we could improve and maybe get better results at work, then the following tip might be a good place to start:

A great tip on active listening comes from the Stephen R Covey book 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' (ISBN 0-684-85839-8).

Dr. Covey's Habit Number 5 is 'Seek first to understand, then to be understood'.

The challenge to understand forces us to listen

Whether in one-to-one discussions or full-blown meetings, the challenge to understand what is being said by others forces us to listen and to listen hard before we speak. The reward for doing this is:

1. We have listened to others and they will be motivated to listen to us

2. We know their up-to-date position, their case, their argument

3. We can incorporate their values, vocabulary and their 'version' of the truth into our responses

I say 'their version' of the truth because things may genuinely look different from their point of view, from their perspective. It could work better for us if we show understanding and acceptance of their view as opposed to 'putting them in the wrong'.

We do not need to go that far in workplace discussion

People understand that acceptance is not agreement. They may well be grateful that we have shown an understanding of the validity of their arguments and we just happen to have a different view to theirs.

Often people will equate disagreement with the other person condemning - not just their words - but the person speaking as being wrong, or mistaken, or even foolish. We do not need to go that far in normal workplace discussion.

So, good luck with listening to understand. Maybe you could practise this at home. After a long day at work - maybe you could go home and give your spouse 'a good listening to'.

© 2018 Frank Newberry