What Did You Say?

I ended my previous post with the question, ‘how does one becomes an effective listener or retains information better?’  There are a number of methods that are written on the Internet with some variations but they do have some commonalities.  These common points I noticed were:

– focus

– patience

– questions

– understanding

– impartiality

– empathising

– observation

There were other various points but those were based on personal opinions and specific settings other than the work environment.  The common points that I have listed are valid and I do use them but the way I use them is dependent on the situation.  The situation varies from group meetings to one-to-one conversations.

As I said before, in the work environment communications is all about getting what you need.  The information conveyor needs something done or delivered.  The information recipient needs to act on those needs or facilitate them.  In order to fulfill the needs of the conveyor you must have all of the relevant information.  To ensure that none are missed you need to perform the first point, ‘focus’.  You need to have your complete attention on the conveyor.  Nothing should distract you from what they are saying; with the exception of a burning building.  The conveyor may think you’re not serious, unprofessional, or even disrespectful if you are easily distracted by other things in the immediate area or what’s on your mind.  As I wrote in the previous post, this could result in the conveyor losing confidence and perhaps even respect for you.

To aid in being focused you must exercise the second point, ‘patience’.  Impatience is a definite distraction for focus, therefore, it is imperative that while you are listening you must not be impatient.  You must allow the conveyor to present the information in a manner in which they feel is effective and are comfortable with.  You may feel that the speaker is taking too much time but they may feel they are providing all of the necessary information. For one-on-one conversations or small meetings, if you have a very finite amount of time to listen, inform the speaker of that before they start; not during.  This will allow them to condense the information so you are not missing any when you leave.

If you have any questions while the conveyor is talking, wait until they pause or are finished to ask your questions.  While it’s unprofessional to interrupt someone, it’s embarrassing to be told that they were about to cover the answer to your question.  This is yet another reason why it is important to be patient.  Some people may feel the need to interrupt because they are concerned that they will forget their questions once the speaker finishes. A remedy for that concern would be to write down your questions in a notebook.  If your questions are answered while the speaker is talking then write down the answers next to your questions, for later reference .

This leads to the next point ‘questions’.  It is absolutely essential that you ask questions if the conveyor did not present enough information.  Your questions need to pertain to the requirements of the speaker.  If the speaker is conveying the performance criteria for a car, it would be irrelevant to ask what colour it should be.  Your questions should be based on an understanding or a lack of understanding of what is required.

This brings us to the next point, ‘understanding’.  There is no better way to be and remain focused than to make an effort to understand what is being said and what is being expected.  As I said before, communications is all about getting what the speaker needs. You must have an understanding of what that need is or strive to gain it.  If you have trouble trying to understand then your questions will be very relevant.

What I typically do whenever the speaker pauses is to formulate in my mind the best or optimum way to achieve the desired deliverables.  If enough information hasn’t been presented to achieve them then I will ask a question or questions, at the appropriate time, requesting clarification or more information.  By the end of the meeting I would have a general plan on how to achieve the deliverables.

Complementing understanding is ‘impartiality’.  Essentially, you must not allow your own ideas or preconceived notions to bias you against the conveyor’s ideas or procedures.  If you do then you will not be receptive to what the speaker is saying.  If you are not receptive then you will not be listening effectively, therefore, listening with an open mind is essential.

The next point is ’empathy’.  Some may say that empathy and understanding are the same point but they do differ.  Understanding is the comprehension of the content of what’s being said.  Empathy is the understanding of the conveyor’s situation that brought about that need, the urgency for it, the criteria for obtaining it, et cetera.  By having a comprehensive understanding of this background information you will able to devise a more effective, quicker solution.  There would be less time spent obtaining clarification, negotiating compromises and less iterations involved.

The final common point is ‘observation’, the act of noticing non-verbal cues.  These cues could include facial expressions, eye movement, hand gestures, body posture, et cetera. The authors of these listening skills articles state that much information can be obtained from these cues, which I don’t doubt.  Personally, I’ve never utilised observations to determine what these cues are probably indicating.  I have found in the work environment that it was always in the best interest of every conveyor I’ve dealt with to state all of the essential information in order to get what they need.

As you have noticed, just as productivity aspects are all interrelated so are the common points for effective listening.  Focus requires patience.  Empathy requires impartiality.  Questioning requires focus and understanding and so on. With these seven points always keep in mind that communication is all about getting what one needs and listening is all about getting the necessary information to provide those needs.

Until the next time!


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