The Art of Listening in the Workplace

Constantly we are being told; listen to your customers, listen to your team members, listen to your employees or those you manage, listen to yourself. But what does it mean to really listen well?

This year, we have given ourselves the challenge to elevate across our company. One art that we have not spoken much about is listening. Sure, we are customer focused and as a founders group we like to think we know what is happening with our staff and each other. But is this really true or are we listening through the filter of our own perspective and emotional state?

The impact of listening fully

I recently found myself reading one of my favourite fiction authors and was impacted deeply by one character’s journey. It was a journey into understanding that listening deeply and truly was the solution to overcoming the challenge in front of her.

This character’s name is Lift, in a book penned by Brandon Sanderson. Lift is not your normal fictional character which is why I dig her style so much. She is unapologetic in her approach, in her interactions with people and in the way she owns her gifts and talents. She is also kind of obsessed with food (a girl after my own heart).

But most importantly she also does not buy into the narrative that as a human with gifts you have to have an existential crisis to understand how and why you possess such awesomeness. It just is. And should be embraced.

What totally threw me is that if you pry a little deeper beyond her crass and unconventional ways, you find a deeply empathetic character whose mission is to hear and cherish the stories of others, particularly those who might be forgotten.

As all good stories do, this one took Lift on an adventure where she encountered some tricky obstacles. In her moment of real crisis, taking on a challenge she did not believe she could overcome, she realised that the answer was based in the underlying messages within the conversations she had with numerous people along the way. Things she did not ‘hear’ the first time around, but on reflection, pointed her in the direction she needed to go. She realised that if she had listened a little deeper she would have understood what was needed much sooner.

Listening in the workplace

When we talk about being extraordinary in our workplace, to elevate us as a team there is something of a lesson there. How do we listen to each other, our customers or partners in a deeper way so we can pick up the nuances that aren’t being directly spoken?

As I have dug a little deeper into this, the man with the great perspective is Stephen R. Covey, who is the author of 7 habits of highly effective people.

One of his more famous quotes is:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply

How true! And challenging! On top of this, when we are time and energy poor our brains becoming increasingly lazy to protect us and filter everything that we see, hear and feel through the lens of what we already know.

*note: if this sparks your interest I can recommend the first chapter of E-squared by Pam Grout

So how do we begin to shift our habits and listen more fully to be more ‘awesome’? (thanks Lift)

Deeper insights into what listening can be

Stephen R. Covey suggests that only 10% of our communication is in spoken form. 30% is through other sounds and 60% through body language. So, beginning to tune into feelings, behaviour and our intuitive sense of what is going on under the words being spoken, we can expand our capacity to really hear what is being communicated.

This is challenging and takes practice. But for me, I wonder what sort of change this might trigger as we begin to hear more fully our customer’s needs, market trends, team dynamics and also what we are telling ourselves.

This is an exciting possibility that could have a huge benefit to our workplace culture and business success.

Next time you are having a conversation with someone, begin to tune into their perspective (not your own), be aware of their body language and other sounds within the conversation, and practice presence. Make eye contact. Don’t interrupt, don’t relate it back to yourself. Instead play with what it means to listen more fully and more awesomely.

Time to go get a snack and channel my inner Lift.