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LISTEN YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS – PART 1

Listening devices

When I teach Listening in my seminars and workshops, I always like to help introduce the topic by asking the room:  Is it possible to hear without listening?  Participants always say yes immediately…and, in doing so, their faces seem to instantly recall times they have performed or witnessed very poor listening…despite perfect hearing!  Agreed on that, I then ask:  Is it possible to listen without hearing?  Suddenly there is pause/hesitation in their faces, differences in their responses and in contemplating an answer to this question…and the real “Listening” discussion begins!

We know from experience that there is a major difference between “hearing” and “listening”…not just because it is possible to do either without doing the other…and not just because one process is passive while the other is active. We know because we experience on a daily basis all the pain of miscommunication that results from poor listening…despite perfect hearing.

Poor listening can lead to many problems in the workplace, including:

  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Missed deadlines
  • Poor morale among coworkers
  • Assignments completed incorrectly
  • Uniformed decision-making and problem solving
  • Even workplace violence, harassment, accidents/injuries or even death can result from failure to listen effectively.

The true/total costs of poor listening in the workplace are beyond calculation.  Meanwhile, just about every workplace victory you can think of will include examples of excellent listening.  I believe that success in life and business is ALL about Listening! But how many of us actively work to improve our listening?

You hope the most important people in your professional life are great listeners (the boss, the client, the vendor, the sub-ordinate, peer or assistant), and you CERTAINLY want the very best listening skills for you children, parents, spouses, friends, teammates/partners, employees, etc.  But YOUR listening is just fine, right?  Well, if you have the slightest notion that YOUR listening can improve, over the next two day, I will discuss the six steps to Listening for Success!!!

STEP ONE:  LISTENING WITHOUT HEARING!!!

So, back to our original question:  Can we “listen” without hearing?  My answer is absolutely YES!  Consider these examples:

  • The co-worker that asks where you feel like going for lunch today…”do you feel like Italian?  A Burger?  Chinese?  Something lite like a good salad?” or…
  • The cell phone call that fights through weak signal just before the call is dropped…”are you there?  Can you hear me?  Can you HEAR ME?  Hello?  I can hear YOU, can you hear ME?” or one of my favorites:
  • Being woken up in the middle of the night by a spouse who just “heard something” and must make sure that you heard it also…”honey, did you hear that?”  “What?” “I HEARD something, did you hear it?” “No” “Well, listen…THERE, did you hear THAT?” “No, what?” “THAT!” “WHAT?!?”

Step One to improve your listening is to separate and isolate “hearing” from the listening process as a whole.  We all know the difference between hearing and listening, right?  Consider the beauty of the platitude you may have heard regarding why God gave us one mouth and two ears…because we should do twice as much listening as we do talking.  No argument there.  The problem with this cliché, however, is that it creates a mental association for us that we “listen with our ears” when what we really do with them is “hear.”

What are you doing to improve your listening skills?

Wolf Management offers customized workshops, seminars, training’s and private coaching that will improve your listening and help you improve the listening of others on your team, staff, jury, committee, or household.  Click here to explore a customized Listening Program for you!

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The Expense of Ineffective Meetings

There’s a saying I’ve heard:  “If you want to kill time, a MEETING is the perfect weapon!”  We ALL attend meetings…many of us conduct them…and we have ALL had the experience/feeling of our time being “wasted” due to bad meetings.  Hopefully, you have also had the opposite experience of carefully prepared, fully executed and completely motivating or productive meetings too.  But let’s face it, which is MOST common?  The bad ones!  So why are most meetings bad and too many meetings REALLY bad?

Well, just nod your head if you’ve experienced meetings that:  start late, run long, go off topic, fail at being “productive”, have either NO agenda or a very poorly prepared agenda…even worse if the agenda is not distributed ahead of time…so you have no idea what the meeting is about or how to feel prepared for the meeting.  I’m talking about the meetings that have no method of effectively controlling egos, interpersonal conflict or the balance needed between social and task-oriented dialogues.  I am talking about meetings that have no structure that encourages productivity…where the wrong people are at the meeting…and the critical people are absent!  My absolute favorite is the meeting that is needed to be scheduled because the meeting we are currently IN has gotten us nowhere.  Ever experience any of that?

Well, what are the harms to our productivity in the workplace that result from these bad meetings?  Consider this:  Most professionals who meet on a regular basis admit to daydreaming (91%), missing meetings (96%) or missing parts of meetings (95%).  Furthermore, a large percentage (73%) say they have brought other work to meetings and 39% say they have dozed during meetings. Patrick Lencioni, author of Death by Meeting, says that bad meetings not only exact a toll on the attendees as they suffer through them, but also cause real human anguish in the form of anger, lethargy, cynicism, and even in the form of lower self-esteem.

Furthermore, consider these numbers:

  • Professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings (roughly four work days)
  • Approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each and every day.
  • Most professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month and…
  • Research indicates that over 50 percent of this meeting time is wasted.

Essentially, meetings are longer, less efficient and generate fewer results.  More meetings are needed to accomplish objectives and with so much time spent in ineffective meetings, employees have less time to get their own work done.  Ultimately inefficient meetings cost organizations billions of dollars each year in otherwise productive employee work time!

So, why does the problem exist?  Usually it’s lack of preparation!  There is a direct correlation between preparation time and meeting productivity, specifically in the area of preparing materials and the agenda.  See the chart below and notice the dramatic increases in productivity after the 28th minute of preparation!!!

Source: A network MCI Conferencing White Paper. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998).

Attitudinal barriers to solving the meeting problem include the fact that most individuals have never experienced or witnessed the power of a truly effective meeting and, therefore, don’t recognize the importance of having better meetings.  Also, it may seem more “convenient” to continue current meeting practices, regardless of how inefficient they may be.  Many teams feel they don’t have access to the kind of effective meeting information they need to improve their meetings or the “permission” to implement best practices.  Most employees feel there’s hardly enough time in a day to complete basic tasks so “Who has the time or energy to commit to improving meetings?”  Managers, accountants or agents of accountability, in general, fail to consider the negative impact meetings have on the organization’s bottom line noted above.

Does any of this sound familiar?  What would it take for you to know if bad meetings are affecting your productivity or bottom line?  And, if they in fact WERE, how soon would you want to know about and fix it?

Always a Question of Communication

Get A Klu

In the workplace, pretty much everything is a question of communication. When things are going great in the workplace, you will find GREAT communication. When things are breaking down in the workplace, what do you think you will find?  You’ve got it:  communication breakdowns! The fact that you are reading this article means you probably KNOW that effective communication is critical to our success in all areas of life.  In the workplace, this is “super true!”  What you may NOT KNOW, however, is exactly how and why communication breaks down, and full extent to which these breakdowns crush a company’s bottom line or your own opportunities for career advancement.  Scary! Meanwhile, a very funny thing about communication is that it is like driving or parenting in that we tend to believe we ourselves do it well, but OTHERS do not! This clearly means that the first step to improving our own communication effectiveness is admitting we need improvement and knowing that it is possible.

OVERCOME THEN IMPROVE

There are five tendencies we must overcome to improve our communication skills.  These tendencies serve as barriers to objectivity, critical thinking, listening and ultimately, to effective communication.  We are MOST open to improving our communication skills when we are MOST aware of these five tendencies in our day-to-day behavior:

STEREOTYPING

Stereotyping occurs when we observe a trait in a member of a population (ethic, gender, religious, political, etc.) and then project that trait onto the entirety of that population.  This is usually done at someone’s expense and ALWAYS represents a certain mental laziness which becomes evident, embarrassing, counter-productive or plainly destructive during workplace communication.

SELF-INTEREST

This refers to the process of blocking out or ignoring anything that does not appeal to one’s CURRENT interests.  Put simply, it is a failure to accommodate the creation of NEW interests.  The consequence of this behavior rests in the lengths people go to in order to avoid things which aren’t of interest. This can include discrediting, distorting, deflecting, sabotaging, and attacking that which does not personally interest us.  A sane person will easily agree that it is not professional or productive to sabotage, distort or otherwise attack a colleague’s ideas.

FROZEN EVALUATIONS

Some people call this being “stubborn”.  However, just knowing that some people refuse to change their minds once they have made them up is not enough.  As with self-interest, we must realize this refusal requires the effort and energy required to ignore, distort, dismiss, or otherwise resist REALITY!  Some people ignore objective, factually true information purely to avoid reversing their own opinions or beliefs.   To avoid the effort it takes to change, OR the “shame” of admitting we are “wrong”, we will actually work harder and “wronger!”  Can you think of workplace decisions that are made and sustained based on imagined vs. actual reality?  Think of a “seller” who lists their home for what THEY think it is worth, or what they want and need, vs. actual market value determined by the comps.  Objective facts are blocked by a frozen “pride of ownership” factor.  What are the workplace versions of this behavioral tendency?

EGO-DEFENSE

Each of the first three tendencies (stereotyping, self-interest and frozen evaluations) is a “version” of this fourth tendency:  Ego Defense.  Ego is our overall sense of self.  Defense is accomplished by “fight or flight” instinct.  This means that we “flinch” at emotional/ego danger just as instinctually and aggressively as we do at physical danger.  Any piece of information that contradicts our sense of self is “eligible” for a fight or flight response.  We all engage in this behavior.  A great difference in communication skills can be found in the difference between PRESERVING/PROTECTING/PROMOTING our overall sense of self vs. EXPANDING/GROWING/EVOLVING our sense of self. The latter approach makes us more vulnerable, but greatly enhances our effectiveness as communicators.

ETHNOCENTRISM

Ethno means culture or cultural, and centrism refers to placing something at a central position of importance.  Ego-defense is a form of ego-centrism…we are ALL self-centered even in generosity.  Ethno-centrism, then, is a very natural tendency to put one’s CULTURE (values, attitudes, beliefs, rituals, language, aesthetics, etc.) at a central position of importance.  This tendency is the “popular” version of ego-defense. We focus on a population, not individuals, and “group think” around the merits of that culture.  Said another way, this is the dangerous and mistaken belief that one’s culture is SUPERIOR to another’s.  The extreme consequences of this tendency include hate crimes, ethnic cleansing or other forms of genocide.  In the workplace the harmful effects are subtler but show up in “the dark side” of communication:  anger, blame, “other-ing”, scapegoating, stereotyping, political conflict, etc.  Effective workplace communication will suffer from the impact of “ethnocentrism” which impedes our ability to validate, appreciate or even understand the cultural diversity that is sure to exist in our workplaces and in this global economy.

With rare exception, where we find workplace drama, lethargy, politics, dirty competition, gossip/rumor, errors, delays, or even injuries and death, communication breakdowns are involved.  It is highly likely that one or more of the five behavioral tendencies above are in play.  The old saying about putting make-up on a pig is a good analogy for putting “communication skills training” on a person without the motivation, awareness and skills to overcome the behavioral tendencies which predict poor communication.

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