- Listen.org reports that the top three reported listening barriers for business practitioners were identified as Environmental distractions such as phones ringing and other people talking,
- Personal and internal distractions, such as hunger, headache, or preoccupation with something else, and,
- Rebuttal tendency (Watson & Smeltzer, 1984). This rebuttal tendency manifests in varying degrees from formulating a response to developing a full counter argument while the speaker is still speaking.
So what makes a good listener?
The Nichols and Stephens same study found that good listeners tend to be able to minimise the amount of mental wandering. These listeners are able “to direct a maximum amount of thought to the message being received, leaving a minimum amount of time for mental excursions on sidetracks leading away from the talker’s thought.”
Similarly, great listeners “listen between the lines” in search of meaning that is not necessarily put into spoken words. She pays attention to nonverbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice) to see if it adds meaning to the spoken words.
Wright University found that highly skilled communicators match their responses to the situation. “In discussions with the people you manage, it helps to differentiate the coaching situations from the counselling situations. Coaching is providing advice and information or setting standards to help your employees to improve their skills and their performance. Counselling is helping subordinates recognize and address problems involving their emotions, attitudes, motivation, or personalities. The most common mismatch of response types to situations is the tendency to give advice or deflect in a situation where counselling is appropriate. When you are counselling, "reflecting" and "probing" are usually more appropriate responses than "advising" or "deflecting."
Yet, according to Nichols and Stephens, “little emphasis is placed on speaking, and almost no attention has been given to the skill of listening”. HBR maintain that this has a lot to do with our inability to acknowledge our own shortcomings. As HBR note, while most people agree that listening effectively is a very important skill, most people don't feel a strong need to improve their own skill level.
This is a huge career opportunity for potential leaders who are open enough to admit they could be better, and ambitious enough to step up and become exceptional listeners. Good listening is a vital ingredient of being an outstanding leader.
And the good news is that listening is a skill that can be learnt and developed over time. We need more great leaders – and to get that, we need more great listeners. Its worth making sure you are one of them.
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