If you think you’re not a good listener, you’re probably wrong.
Listening researcher Kevin Murphy asserted that in his book “Effective Listening: Hearing What People Say and Making It Work for You.”
Murphy questioned a sample of 20 top managers, “all business leaders whom I had known to be truly tuned to their employees’ needs and goals“.
“Are you a good listener?” was Murphy’s question. What was the result?
“More than 75 percent of the good listeners I surveyed answered no. Why? Because the better you listen, the more you learn about how little you know.”
So the good listeners were harder on themselves than the independent experts were. Unhappily, the opposite also is true. In general, studies show that most people think they’re good listeners – and most people are wrong.
The implications for Project Management are significant. So is the proof that the most serious problems in projects result from poor communication, and that good communication is integral to successful projects.
An important reality is that most of us don’t know much about listening and about communication itself – even though we’re doing it all the time. Indeed, groups exist only through communication. Management is up to 100 percent communication.
And listening is deeply embedded in every act and structure of communication.
How is that so?
First, consider listening as narrowly defined. The acronym PAED summarizes what happens.
It begins with the P, perception. We hear something. Most directly, the perception is aural, with the eardrum receiving and responding to vibrations of air molecules that have been disturbed by movement of vocal cords or some other source.
The inner ear converts the eardrum movement to electrochemical signals that are sent to the brain. Then A occurs: association.
The mind, working in the brain, immediately seeks to identify the meaning of the sound. Have I heard this before? What is it?
If there is no immediate association, your mind may latch onto what can be considered a similar experience or meaning. This, of course, is very vulnerable to error.
Right away, almost simultaneously, comes evaluation. Is this good for me, or bad for me? And then decision: Does this make me feel happy, sad, indecisive, angry? Then I do or say something in response to my conclusion.
Or not. Good listeners train themselves to take command of the PAED process.
With practice, you can even have some influence over perception – how carefully you will listen to the initial sound.
In fact, your control can start even before there is any sound. As a person turns to address you, or a presentation is about to begin, you make up your mind about how seriously you are going to take this, or what you will look for in the upcoming experience.
The good listener will focus awareness on the association and evaluation processes too, deliberately delaying decision in the interest of full and clear understanding. You can ask yourself whether the first quick association is enough, or whether you should search your memory, and maybe do some research or consultation. Or just ask the person. This is what we call “keeping an open mind.”
The open mind is not a passive state. It is a deliberate effort to identify and satisfy aspects of this matter that must be explored if real understanding is to develop.
Doing so ensures that the fourth element of listening, decision, is solidly grounded.
Such mental discipline is within the practice called “active listening.” As a marker for excellence in management, it obviously requires competent use of the full range of the mind’s abilities.
That is achieved through conscious focus and extensive practice. It demands consistent awareness of what I am seeing, hearing and thinking.
So, how do you know when someone is listening, really listening, to you?
The person’s attention is visibly focused on the conversation. He or she is looking directly at you. Not doing something else. Is making comments and asking questions that demonstrate interest and understanding.
Later, you see the person acting in ways that have resulted directly from integration of what you said into the person’s actions and behavior. You may hear the person quoting you by name to others.
How does all that make you feel?
You feel great about it, particularly if this person is in a position of some importance. You feel appreciation. You want to demonstrate loyalty. If the person is your manager, you’re eager to be responsive.
Listen up. It's good management.
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