Many years ago I attended a conference. It was my first and I got really excited (as we all do our first time). I got to meet a number of the people who wrote the books I’d been reading for the last year or so. I talked a lot. I talked a hell of a lot in fact. Probably too much. Definitely too much. A few months after the conference I heard that one of the authors was meeting up with a friend of mine. I asked my friend if I could join them. He asked and I was politely rebuffed. “He’s the guy who does not listen” was the feedback I received.
At the next conference I made sure people knew I was listening. I adopted a number of techniques.
- I shut up.
- I looked at the speaker, focusing on them as if they were the only person in the room.
- I maintained eye contact.
- I nodded, and gasped and shook my head as appropriate.
- I left a pause after anyone spoke before I said anything.
- I asked clarifying questions about what they had said.
At the end of the conference the author said of me “This guy does full face listening.”
Was I listening more? Nope. I listened just as much as I had before. The difference was I let people know I was listening.
Much of my career has been spent on the trading floors of Investment Banks. These can be quiet or they can erupt into noise and activity. You get used to talking and listening at the same time. Even though you are talking, you are allways listening as well. As a result, I’m often listening to someone even it appears that I am not.
People assumed that I wasn’t listening when in fact I was. Their perception was just as important as whether I was listening or not. They needed the feedback that I was listening.
Listening is about focus. Some people need to know you are focused on what they are saying, otherwise they do not think you are listening. I know someone who does not think you are listening unless they have eye contact with you.
Many, many years ago when I was studying for my first degree I remember having a conversation with one of my lecturers. For some reason he recounted the tale of another student.
There had once been a student who turned up for every lecture and sat at the back just sitting there. Whilst all of the other students copied do the notes on the board, the student just sat there. Doing nothing. The lecturer had discussed the student with other professors who had the same experience with the student. They all concluded that the student was a failure. The lecturer decided to speak to the student about it.
The lecturer had a surprise.
The student explained that they could not listen and write at the same time. So they listened to the lectures and then went home and wrote their own notes based on the lecture. This was at odds with the way most students worked. Most students wrote down everything the lecturer wrote on the board and ignored what they were saying.
It turned out the student wasn’t a failure after all.
Communication is very important on any project. If we do not let people know we have heard their voice, they may assume that we have not been listening. Some times we may wish to engage in some behaviour that gives people feedback to indicate that we are listening.
We should be careful that we do not assume that people…
- know you are listening.
- are not listening.
- are listening.