The Power of Listening
Most people are aware of the difference between hearing and listening. And as we know, most of the time we pretend to listen while we’re thinking of the next thing we’re going to say. Listening can be hard work, because it requires focus. It is an essential skill for leaders but also for anyone who wants to be successful.
The web site Skills You Need has this: “Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees. This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to: better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, increased sharing of information that in turn can lead to more creative and innovative work.”
Listening is particularly important in healthcare, where information has to be communication rationally and specifically in ways that are clearly understood. This can be difficult in an environment such as a laboratory, which has many distractions. Most of us manage this basic level of communication day to day well enough.
It’s much harder to listen to how we can help another person, be that person a patient, coworker, or employee. That takes concentration and effort, because it’s about the agenda of the other person. Everything in your mind has to stop to learn what the other person is saying. While we are motivated to listen to patients who are likewise motivated to receive our help, things get much more complicated in the workplace itself.
Mind Tools has some good tips for active listening: pay attention, show that you’re listening, give feedback, don’t judge, and respond appropriately. This can be easy if the person is honestly trying to communicate and there are no distractions, both of which don’t always happen in a busy workplace.
Like any skill, listening takes practice. It is never enough to sit with an employee at a yearly performance evaluation to have an “honest conversation.” That evaluation should be a summation of the year’s communication, if anything, to reach an understanding. Good managers listen constantly and offer feedback on a variety of topics: working conditions, quality issues, morale concerns, and anything else that pops up. A daily huddle is a good place to start.
Any worthwhile disclosure between parties assumes a bond of trust that is built over time. Any new manager has a blank slate to get this done, but this can be tough for someone with a reputation for not listening. It isn’t enough, for example, to say you have an open-door policy. An open door means all work stops, the computer screen is ignored, and the phone isn’t answered. I try very hard to do all these things when a staff member stops by my office. That’s what email and voicemail are for. For those few minutes, nothing should be more important than what the other person has to say.
These few steps can help build trust and make sure you are available and interested in what people are saying. If people are willing to talk, it’s much easier to listen.
NEXT: Confirmation Bias