Listening: A forgotten part of communication

Much is made of the art of speaking to create effective communication — ensuring a statement is clear, to the point and applicable to the situation. But we have to realize that communication consists of two steps. The first is speaking. The second is listening. Without both parts working together, communication fails.

Normally, on my way to work, I have the radio on in the car. One of my favorite on-air personalities made a statement I cannot forget. To paraphrase him, he said, “I get paid for talking but I make my money by listening.” While most of us do not get paid to talk on the radio for a living, listening is how we earn our pay. Hearing and listening are two distinctly separate functions, much like looking versus seeing. One is just a physical act while the other involves understanding.

On the same page

One of the toughest issues in business is the effort to get everyone onto the same proverbial page. We all talk about it and recognize how important a shared idea is to a shared commitment. But shared commitment cannot be achieved without first creating shared understanding. And we cannot get shared understanding without excellent communication. While there are many ways to improve our listening skills, I will focus on just two that have had a major impact for me:

  • Ask clarifying questions. To gain better understanding, ask for clarification on points that you do not understand or that were not fully explained. Never ask a leading question that points toward your solution. Often the initiator of the conversation may assume you know more than you do and he or she may not fully express his or her concern.
  • Don’t interrupt. The natural tendency is to provide a solution before all the facts are known. It’s tough to gain understanding if the focus is on solutions while trying to listen at the same time. Take a pause before responding. Silence can feel uncomfortable, but the initiator normally will start talking again to expound on the issue.

A few of my favorite clarifying questions are: Do others have a similar concern? How does this impact our core strategy? Does this match our culture and values? Has this occurred in the past and how did we handle it?

Frustrations into goals

Always make conversations positive. Turn complaints into wishes and frustration into goals. The more you pay attention, the more the presenter feels appreciated. Even if a decision is contrary to the issue, he or she will appreciate being heard.

Our daily conversations are what drive our culture, teamwork, productivity and accountability in each of our organizations. If we can focus on our listening skills, each facet of our operations will be better served and create clarity of purpose. Remember, we all have two ears one mouth for a reason, because listening is twice as difficult as talking and it is twice as important to understand.

Bill Hanlon has spent 38 years in the logistics sector and is involved with several industry trade associations. His goal is to provide a more professional and respected attitude about the logistics industry.