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  • Debra Cadman

Are you listening?



We mean REALLY LISTENING! Most of us are involved in conversations many times every day - in both business and personal situations. But how often do you actually listen properly - that is, immerse yourself in what you're hearing, without mentally preparing for 'your turn' in the conversation?


An important factor in listening to someone speak, without interruption, is that you will get more detail, nuance, information, emotion or inflection that you'll miss if you talk over someone. You've probably heard of the anonymous quote "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply". We know how annoying it is when it happens to us so why do we all still do it?


At its root, listening is the act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another person. But listening is also the most important ingredient for building strong leadership, healthy relationships, and thriving organizations. If you need proof, just think of a recent time when you felt like no one was listening. How did that make you feel? Did your engagement increase or decrease?

Michael Papay, HuffPost.com


Another very good reason to listen fully is because it is courteous and respectful to give someone else your genuine attention. How often do you have an exchange with the back of someone's head as they're working, watching TV or glazing over on their phone?How often do you do that to others? By maintaining eye contact and looking at the person you are exchanging communications with you can pick up non verbal clues. Are they relaxed, agitated, nervous? Keep looking and listening and you'll learn so much more.


When we begin working on a reply before the speaker is finished, we lose both the complete information being offered and an understanding of the kind of emotion present in the speaker’s delivery.

Leslie Shore, Listen to Succeed


It's fine to nod and show you are listening and understand. But keep the questions and comments until the person has finished what they are saying. It can take people a little longer to reach the conclusion you might have already guessed at. Give them space and time to get there themselves, especially if you're talking with someone who works for you or a younger member of your family.


It can be quite liberating to let yourself be fully in the moment, allowing the other person to speak freely without having to be quick enough to get a word in! It also stops us jumping to conclusions as we hear all the details being offered. In the workplace, listening is a most powerful agent to effecting change and development.


Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in the workforce has attended a meeting in which one executive does the talking while other participants hold back their thoughts, worried about the impact of changes and decisions, while feeling utterly powerless to express themselves or do anything about their circumstances. The result is not only a lack of consensus — when staff members don’t feel that they’ve been heard, the result is a general lack of commitment, engagement and productivity.

Michael Papay, HuffPost.com


Try this! Just as a basic exercise, when someone next talks to you about anything, stop, pause and listen. Put your phone away as a mark of courtesy but also as a powerful signal that you are not thinking about anything else at that moment. Look at the person. Focus on what they're saying and forbid yourself from interrupting, asking questions or giving a viewpoint or instruction until they have finished speaking. Only then can you take your turn with a considered answer. Just try it, it's harder than it sounds.


In an article in fastcompany.com, it cites 6 ways to listen better. They are:

  • Listen to learn, not be polite

  • Quiet your agenda

  • Ask more questions (although we suggest you save questions for the end)

  • Pay attention to your talk/listen ratio

  • Repeat back what you've heard

  • Wait for someone to stop speaking before you respond

You can read this article in full here.


At The HR Agenda we work hard on the art of thinking but this is in tandem with learning to be a better listener. These basic communication skills really do make a difference to how effective you are with everyone around you - both at home and at work. Many of our delegates hold incredibly senior positions and are alarmed at their talk/listen ratio. We promise you that you'll learn some good techniques for really hearing what is being said - and learning more from those around you - after just one day!


Try some of these tips and let us know how you get on - we'll promise to be ready to listen

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