Often employees complain about their managers because they´re not good listeners. Managers stress about their employees because they don´t follow directions. So often what everyone is missing here is that someone is not listening because they’ve never learned how. Can you train someone to listen more effectively? Absolutely. But it takes time and employees (and managers) need to recognize in very concrete ways the benefits of good listening. That, too, can take time.
One of the biggest problems at work (and of course outside of work as well) is that people don´t want to listen or at least listen long enough, because they´re in too much of a hurry to solve someone´s problem. Sometimes an employee just needs to vent and hear himself describe a problem, point by point, without being interrupted except for maybe a few uh huh´s or some head nodding or maybe, just maybe the occasional "I know what you mean."
In other cases, a staffer really needs a useful point of view but not until she´s had some time to explain a situation. Even before you start dishing out advice, though, it´s a good idea to reiterate what someone has said-"So if I understand you correctly, such and such seems to be the problem . . ."-or, at the very least, ask some pointed questions, which some of us need just to get back on track or quickly gain some much needed perspective.
But as I mentioned above, acquiring good listening skills takes time and practice. One of the quickest and easiest ways to begin to learn how to be a better listener is to notice how others listen to you. Are they looking you in the eye? What do they say? Do they seem distracted? Are they willing to take a cell phone call while you´re talking (that´s a sure sign of someone not wanting to listen, right?). Does the person have a hard time understanding what you´re saying? Does he pretend as if he understands or does he ask for clarification? By studying how other people respond to you when you talk you will become more sensitive and responsive while others are talking to you.
If you´re a manager, consider studying your colleagues for the next week and then the following week see if you can increase your own listening skills. See if anything changes. Remember, just because you´re not talking doesn´t mean you´re not communicating. Next time I´ll talk more about the importance of training your people to be better listeners and why it´s so important to the good health of a company.