When Listening Isn't Hearing
Have you ever tried to get your point across in multiple different ways -- only to leave the conversation knowing the other person didn't "hear" you? Do you find yourself more frustrated when that other person (the one who didn't hear you) considers herself a good listener? Especially if she's your supervisor?
We say everything we know to say, and we can tell the other person is listening -- yet, understanding is elusive. Just because a supervisor listens, doesn't mean her employee feels "heard." We tend to brush past this communication chasm, in part because we feel powerless to change it. A few simple steps will help bridge the gap.
1. As the listener, reflect the speaker's thoughts back to him. Human nature begs us to avoid following through with this final step of active listening, perhaps because it can feel condescending. However, using phrasing you're comfortable with, this is an easy way to communicate you value and respect the other person. In the scenario we're using, the supervisor would paraphrase what the employee said: "Steve, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I want to make sure we're on the same page. You'd like to take this Friday off by using eight hours of your sick leave. Is that accurate?"
2. As the speaker, ask the listener to reflect your thoughts back to you. If you're the one speaking and the listener doesn't try to paraphrase your thoughts, ask her to do so: "Mary, I appreciate you listening so attentively. Sometimes my thoughts make a lot more sense inside my head than after they come out of my mouth. I want to make sure we're on the same page. Will you please share your impression of what I said?
3. Ask questions. Ask as many clarification questions as you need to in order to be confident you've achieved mutual understanding. Remember, there are no stupid questions.
4. Accept understanding; don't require agreement. The goal of communication isn't agreement, it's understanding. It's okay to disagree. If you're the supervisor, be generous to those who serve under your authority. If you're an employee, be respectful to those in leadership positions.
Strive to understand all those with whom you communicate. Give each other the space to disagree, and respect when you don't get to make the decision.
What makes you feel "heard?"