Workplace Communication

Are You Really Listening?

listening fishWhen my daughter Kelsey was about four years old, we were both sitting and looking at the new fish in our fish tank. Having just added the fish, I was watching them closely to ensure they were adjusting to the water, temperature, and other fish in the tank. While I was doing this, Kelsey was talking to me about something . . . I can’t remember what. What I do remember is about a minute or so into her story, she took my face in her hands and said, “Mommy, I need you to look at me when you’re listening to me.”

This incident has always stuck with me because it reminds me of the importance of looking at others and giving them your undivided attention when listening. Now one might argue that since we listen with our ears, not our eyes, we don’t really have to look at the other person to listen well. However, I disagree.

First, looking at the other person allows you to “listen” to nonverbal cues you’d otherwise miss if you weren’t looking. For example, an employee says he understands your instructions, but his face looks confused or concerned. Which should you believe?

Second, as was the case when Kelsey was talking to me, even a child can tell when a person isn’t engaged with her by the lack of eye contact. The person to whom you’re listening needs the “warm fuzzy” they get by having that eye contact and the attention that goes with it when they’re speaking.

This week make a point of stopping what you’re doing, turning and looking at the person who is speaking to you. Give that person your undivided attention and make him or her feel like what they’re saying is your number one priority. I realize there are times when you can’t do that, so if that’s the case, be honest and tell the person you can’t listen now and recommend a better time for you to talk. Better to tell the truth, than to lie and say “Yes, I’m listening,” when you’re really not. You’re wasting your time and theirs!

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