That great, underrated, totally necessary skill
23 March 2015
The topic of listening and understanding came up multiple times this week in coaching sessions. Listening is a skill everyone learns on their own or with a mentor. There is no University of Listening, let alone a University of Understanding.
Misunderstandings are a major cause of strife in the workplace, and in our personal lives as well. My favorite of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits is habit five: seek first to understand, then to be understood.(1)
Why is this important? Because most of us have already spent time figuring out how we feel about something—the performance of a team at work, the sales numbers from last quarter, your college-age child’s new romantic partner. New things constantly come our way and we process them. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that everyone else is doing the same thing. Someone else may have a legitimate reason for understanding the same problem in a very different way.
This is an integral part of the human condition—we are social creatures living inside our own bodies. We naturally tend to believe that others will see things as we do. Sometimes that is true; often it is not.
What Covey was writing about in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is our need to respond as a community, not as an individual. It’s easy for any of us to know how we feel about something, but if we authentically care about [insert My Company, My Employee, My Child] then we are obligated to seek out and carefully listen to how they feel about the same issue before asserting a position or an edict.
The truly difficult part about Habit Five is listening. That is not the same thing as letting someone else speak. It is listening with the heart, it is seeking—actively, honestly seeking—to understand their position AND being willing to integrate that into your own opinion.
I believe this is a core competency of leaders, executives, managers—of everyone. Mysterious turnover, unexplained dysfunction, low morale—these things come not from challenging and difficult work but from people feeling ignored and devalued.
A great place to begin rebuilding morale and trust is by listening: authentically, honestly, deeply listening. Solutions will come from the most unexpected places and problem-solving becomes not a solitary thing but a chorus of many voices.
Image courtesy of IQuitCountingStock