A LITTLE THING THAT MATTERS —
One of the hardest things I needed to do when I first became a manager, was to learn how to listen. Yes, I realize we all learned the basics soon after birth but I mean “learn how to really listen”.
My problem was, in part, the way my brain works. I hear a few basic things — enough for my brain to figure it knows where this conversation is going — and I immediately want to jump to some conclusion and begin to prepare my response. This must sound familiar to many of you whose brains work the same way. The trouble is that while we are preparing a response to an unproven conclusion, we are also paying little attention to the stream of additional facts and information that may prove vital in the end. Thus, I needed to learn how to discipline myself to listen fully, pay close attention to everything I was hearing, withhold judgment, avoid jumping to a conclusion, and do my best to grasp the importance of the message I was receiving from the perspective of its deliverer.
A great many managers have similarly had to work hard at becoming good listeners and the best of them have done so because they understand just how important the “art of listening” is from the perspective of their colleagues, especially their subordinates. It is another of those little things that really matters.
When a manager has something important to say, you can bet he or she wants their audience — one individual or a group of some size — to hear and understand their communication. Since two core parts of a manager’s job involves the clear communication of personal and corporate messages, and efforts to ensure the understanding of those messages, the best managers work hard to determine whether folks are listening, comprehending, and understanding the reasoning behind their utterances. It is down right irritating to a manager when folks simply do not listen or pay sufficient attention.
So, turn the table. Someone, or a group, that has something important — from their perspective — to say approaches a manager. How do we suspect they feel if they conclude the manager is disinterested, or has simply tuned out their message or thoughts? And believe me, they know when that has happened, because this sort of behavior is habitual and frequently on display.
Perhaps the manager’s eyes seldom move from the computer screen, paper, or object of their attention when the conversation begins. Or perhaps it is the dismissive tone we hear in the yea’s, uh-ughs, point taken’s, or the wandering eyes that constantly survey the surroundings for something or some person of greater immediate interest.
Really listening requires mental attention, eye contact, and body language — especially a facial expression — that demonstrates and communicates real interest. These things are almost impossible to fake; co-workers are not stupid. If a particular moment is not right for a conversation, good managers say so, explain why, and hold the discussion later when they can fully listen.
I once worked for a boss who delighted in asking me questions in the hallway and then only half-heartedly listened to my answer. Moreover, if someone he deemed more important to him passed us by, he would walk away, often with me in half sentence. I learned to laugh at the absurdity of his behavior but never came to feel much in the way of respect.
Really listening may seem like a little thing but it is — above all — a true sign of respect. That is why the best managers understand that it absolutely MATTERS.