Are you actually listening?

When you listen do you really listen or just go through the motions?
When you listen do you really listen or just go through the motions?

I happen to have NPR on my radio this afternoon and listened to a show called “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. Her interview guest was Dave Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps, a show that records conversations of everyday people and preserves them in the Library of Congress. StoryCorps tagline is “Celebrating 10 years of listening to America.” He has also written a book called Listening is an act of love. Naturally the subject of conversation was primarily around the act of listening. Isay, in response to one of Tippett’s questions, said that despite what he does he can be a very bad listener. He said it is hard and it takes work. That got me to thinking about how important listening is in our daily lives and how we generally go about doing a poor job of it.

Listening is a key HR and management skill

Given what we do in HR and management I will make the statement that listening effectively is the most important skill an HR manager or a manager of any sort must have. When do we need to be listening?

  • When we interview;
  • When we review;
  • When we ask a question;
  • When we investigate;
  • When we have a conversation.

There are thousands of articles written on listening skills. Active listening is one of the skills most often recommended.
Active listening generally includes nonverbal feedback to show you are paying attention. This nonverbal feedback includes:

  • Head nods
  • Eye contact
  • Your posture
  • “Mirroring” the other person’s behavior

Not giving into distractions like looking at a watch, or paying attention to the sound of an email arriving is also key to effective active listening.

But are you really listening?

I admit however, that I have gone through the act of being an active listener without really listening and I bet you have too. An observer would probably think I am paying rapt attention, but in reality it is a sham. I have done it long enough to fake it. But I get bored, I am ready for the conversation to be over, for the interviewee to be gone or to have the other person just shut up. Sometimes it is because I want to say something that I consider to be more important.
According to the website SkillsYouNeed there are a number of things you can do that will help you actually be an active listener and keep you from faking it. These include:

  • Asking questions about something said.
  • Remembering something said a few minutes in the past.
  • Reflecting on something that was said.
  • Asking for clarification on a point made.
  • Summarizing what the person has said and allowing the speaker to correct what you have said.

These cues will show the speaker that you have actually listened to what they said. You will be surprised how actually listening will improve communication.

5 thoughts on “Are you actually listening?”

  1. ESPECIALLY in HR this is critical! Situations that are teetering on explosion are often tamed through a genuine, empathetic ear.
    Your last suggestion (summarizing what the person said) has also been called “Drive-thru talk.” Every time you place an order in the drive thru, the employee repeats it back.
    I’ve seen this used brilliantly to diffuse incendiary situations. After the venom spews: “You’re angry because, ______. What have I missed? Keep going. Is there anything else?” The offended party expects to be cut off, or an argument. Letting them vent, and vent, and vent, and vent . . . it allows the steam to release.

  2. I could always do a better job. As a Hi D personality (#DiSC), I tend to want to get to the point rather quickly.
    So I make myself paraphrase back everything a person says to me in my own way… and if it makes sense to them, I know that I listened well.

  3. – Frankly there is something wrong if a Realtor doesn’t respond to you in the same day. Poor communication skills is one of the top complaints against real estate agents and completely unacceptable in my book.

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