Leadership Lesson: Do You Hear Me?

Hearing vs. Listening

Do you hear me?  Are you listening?

Many people use these two questions interchangeably, but they’re two significantly different questions.  You can “hear” people are talking, but then you can “listen” to what they’re saying.  Let me give you an example.

Hearing vs. Listening

When I was in the Navy, on board USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), I shared an office space with our Chief Petty Officer.  Basically the only thing separating our areas was a small file cabinet with a 13” TV on top.  In the evenings, I always had the TV on, but the volume low.

Harold asked me one time, with a puzzling tone, “How can you concentrate with the TV on?”

My reply was that I’m not “listening” to it.  I just “hear” the sound.  I really had no idea what show was on.

Straight Talk

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says, in part, that

To “hear” means:

1: to perceive or apprehend by the ear.

To “listen” means:

1: to pay attention to sound.

Big difference.  When you “hear”, it’s just sound going in.  But when you “listen”, you are actually understanding the information.  In other words, you can hear something without wanting to, but you can only listen to something intentionally.  Listening is a skill.

Anyone who’s been a leader for any length of time should realize that you have to learn how to phrase questions properly in order to get the most honest and useful information and understanding in return.

The answer is always going to be “Yes” to the question, “Do you hear me?”, but “No” (at least in their mind) to the question, “Are you listening to me?”

Never ask, “Do you hear me?”

Leadership Lesson: Focus on Listening

Now, with that background, let’s change direction and talk about our listening skills.  Leaders need to focus in order to keep listening, or else we’re just . . . hearing.  Too many leaders have so many things on their minds that if they don’t just stop and focus on listening, it’s not long before they’re thinking about other things and slipping into the hearing mode.

Listening requires you to stop what you’re doing and to have patience with the conversation.

In his book, Creating Magic, Lee Cockerell says, “it’s vital to hang in there, because you never know when a glimmer of an idea might shine through.  The sentence you tuned out on might hold a crucial fact, or reveal an important problem you need to know about.”

A Listening Attitude

If you want to actually listen to someone, and not just go through the actions of hearing, you need to use the proper means.  A lot of my work has been in customer service.  That’s a great subject to take a look at.

How many of you have suggestion boxes, or comment cards?  All you get there are statements that you’re most likely going to quickly glance over and then move along.  Do you send written responses back to the customers?  You tell them that “we hear what you are saying.”  You HEAR what they’re saying.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you are LISTENING to them.

Most people tend to be “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing.”

Active Listening

Guest Relations at Walt Disney World used to send apology letters to Guests who complained.  But those letters, like most organizations, are just a form that specific information is inserted into.  So they started phoning the Guests instead, creating a two-way conversation where they could actually LISTEN to the concerns and work them out.

So what can I do right now to start listening better?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.

  1. Go to the door and greet the person – personally welcome them into your office.  Help put them at ease.
  2. Get out from behind your desk and sit with the person.  Chairs should be the same height so you don’t give off a domineering vibe.
  3. Stop what you’re doing and turn to face the person.
  4. Take notes.  Tell the person that you’d like to jot down some notes while you converse in order to help you understand better.
  5. Unless you’re a doctor on-call, don’t answer the phone.
  6. Use open, positive body language.
  7. Watch the person’s body language to help you “listen” to what’s NOT being said.

Keep in mind what Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni said in their book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go“It’s the quality of the conversation that matters most to employees.”

**********

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——————–
Andy Uskavitch
Andy Uskavitch is Leadership Development at Florida Blood Services
He develops and facilitates Leadership, Motivation & Teambuilding Seminars
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Blog |  (727) 568-5433

Image Sources: creative.newlifechurch.tv

5 Responses

  1. This is simple yet profoundly important stuff. The most important insights I have ever gained into my followers’ behavior and motivations came from encouraging them to talk and then quietly listening to them. Leaders are often encourage to be loud and assertive and “in charge,” and as a result sometimes we lose sight of the vital importance of shutting our mouths and listening to what our people are saying.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks for the great reminder of truth and the 7 actions to take toward better listening! I would add that leaders first need to let their employees know they are listening and not feel compelled to defend or explain in response.

  3. Great article, but I have to keep this one away from my wife. This is all the stuff that she has been telling me for years…. LOL, Seriously the power of intention works for us.

  4. Love this article, Andy. Thanks for the timely reminder and powerful Cockerell quote.

  5. I resonate deeply with the ideas stated here. In the ’80′s Sperry Univac initiated a company wide program to incorporate listening throughout the organization. Dr. Manny Steil ran a good share of this program and had an organization called International Listening Leadership Institute. The ideas described in this article are very sound, and I heartily endorse.

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