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Poor listener? Listen up

As you might imagine, as a paid expert on communication and leadership, I get some well earned ribbing at home from my wife Robin because of my poor listening skills as a husband and father. Once I made the comment that she just didn’t pay me as well as my client’s did for me to be a good listener. After a few days in the dog house I understood that payment can be in many different forms.

How can I be a very good listener in selling and coaching situations and so poor at it at home?

In the same way, my teenage children can be remarkably poor listeners at times and yet hear the faintest whispers of a private conversation I’m having with my wife.

Perhaps you suffer from the same affliction – selective listening. Chances are when your boss or a customer is communicating you pay more attention and you may even lean in to hear a juicy bit of gossip. And yet when a coworker or employee approaches you, your listening skills plummet.

It turns out our selective listening isn’t just dependent on our interest in the information. It also has to do with who is delivering the information.

Supervisors and managers have to be particularly conscious of this because they tend to have certain employees they listen to well and others who they don’t listen to as effectively.

Much of this has to do with the judgments you make about people in determining whether they are worth listening to or not. In a manager – subordinate situation I may have already discounted the information the person is going to give me before they start speaking. It could be based on prejudice or past experience with the individual.

The effect is that I will miss out on some potentially useful information and send the message that I really don’t value the person as an individual. As my employee the person will then be less interested in helping me achieve the departmental objectives.

Tips to Improve Your Listening Skills

  1. See the other person as having something useful to say even if it means deprogramming some of your past interactions or your own insecurity.
  2. Avoid distractions and focus on the person – yes that means not looking at your computer screen or checking your Blackberry or iPhone for a few minutes.
  3. Challenge yourself to summarize what the person said to you before adding in your own commentary.

Along with you, I will be applying these tips at home to see the impact it has on a personal level.

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