Effective Communication: Listening

Posted by Mary Hallock on Apr 24, 2019 9:33:17 AM


Recently I’ve been doing some supervisory training focused on communication. When I ask supervisors about some of the problems they face “Communication” is nearly always raised as an issue. This seemingly simple response can lead to a quite complex topic. How exactly should we address improving communication?

It would probably help to define the problem further. Are you worried about the communication that is coming to you or the communication you are passing on to others? Is this communication for the purpose of providing information or for solving a problem or asking a question or for helping someone improve? Once you start asking these questions, you realize how hard it is to succeed in effectively communicating a message. It’s also easy to see that there are probably no easy answers.

One place I like to start is with the listening side of the equation. Communication has to be a 2-way street. In order for a message to be conveyed, first it has to be sent, then it has to be accepted. The only way for the message to be accepted is for the message to be listened to. I intentionally use the word listen because hearing is just one piece of the sensory experience of listening. I can hear someone talk without tuning into the specific message – perhaps I’m looking at my phone while someone is talking or perhaps I’m too busy trying to send my next email.

Listening requires every bit of our being to be engaged in the act of taking in the message. We need to hear with our ears but we also need to see with our eyes. And if we can’t see with our eyes (maybe we are on the phone) we need to be particularly in tune with any vocal tones and changes. In order to listen well we also need to understand the other person. Think of a time when you have tried communicating with someone who you just met versus talking to someone you have known for a long time. It’s difficult to interpret pauses and inflections and phrases with a new person, so we may have to listen more carefully.

Think of the last time you received an email that wasn’t quite clear and maybe created hard feelings due to a misunderstanding. Even though we may trade emails in a “discussion,” this discussion is stilted. We can’t see the expressions on the other person’s face. We can’t hear their tone or judge their body language. Email is a good example of how difficult communication can be if we can’t listen to the message.

Listening also requires reading between the lines. What isn’t being said out loud that is coming through in the message? Some of us are better at interpreting these unsaid messages than others. Some of us take things at face value and tend not to delve into the deeper meanings. Others of us are quite good at getting these hidden messages. The thing we need to be particularly careful of is to try to remove any personal biases that may alter the message being delivered.

So the next time someone asks to talk to you about something, how about putting down your cell phone, stop sending an email, stop thinking about all the things that are waiting for you and look at the person and listen to what they are telling you.

Interested in improving your communication skills and developing into a more effective leader? Contact us at info@imec.org or call 888.806.4632.

Mary Hallock

Written by Mary Hallock

Topics: Leadership, communication

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