30 Apr “You’re not listening to me!” – CEO’s Corner
“You’re not listening to me!”
How often have we heard it? How often have we said it?
The hard truth is, most human beings are not very good at listening. Instead, we listen just long enough to think of a response. We listen until we begin formulating our response, and then lose focus on the words, tone of voice and body language as we consider what we’re going to say when it’s our turn. Even worse, if we think our response is important enough, we interrupt. We do, indeed, stop listening.
When we stop listening, our conversation partner knows. Think about the last time you were aware that someone had stopped listening while you were talking. How did you feel? That’s exactly how your partner feels when you’re thinking of a response rather than listening.
Why does this happen? Psychologists long ago determined that, while our brains can perfectly execute some kinds of multiple tasks simultaneously (for instance, it operates our heart and lungs at the same time), it can’t fully engage in multiple cognitive (thinking) tasks at the same time. We can’t, for instance be fully engrossed in a conversation and check our email or texts — we pay attention to the conversation, shift our focus to our smartphones, and then back again.
Since our minds can only focus on one thinking task at a time, we rapidly switch attention between tasks, a process called cognitive switching. We rapidly switch our focus from what’s being said to how we’re going to respond (how we’re going to look good). We do twice as much, half as well. (Please excuse typos, I’m on my iPhone).
It’s no wonder that “The problem with communication is the illusion it happened!” Whoever is listening isn’t, really.
Management studies show that when you ask most employees if they clearly understand what their manager want them to do, they don’t have a clue – even as their bosses believe those goals have been clearly, repeatedly communicated. And, perhaps as a result, if you ask most employees what they think the single most important thing the company can do to improve to improve, the answer you’ll get is “fire my manager.” Employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their leaders.
So, what do we do? We can take responsibility both to listen fully and make sure we’ve been understood. Awareness is first. Once we become aware we’re thinking of a response rather than continuing to listen, we can bring our minds back to what’s being said. We can ask questions, to fully explore what the other person is trying to say. We can confirm back that we, truly, do understand: “So, what you’re saying is . . . . have I got that right?
We can ask for confirmation that the other person has understood what we’ve said. “This task I’ve just asked you to do . . . would you repeat it back to me just to be sure we’re on the same page.”
It might take a little longer to finish the conversation. But, if we focus ourselves and our teams on understanding rather than conversing, there’d be less miscommunication, fewer mistakes, less wasted time. We’d have more success, less turnover, better relationships — with your employees, spouses, kids, vendors, clients and customers.
What would that be worth to you?
A CEO for more than 25 years, Jed Daly works with the CEOs and senior executives of more than 40 Los Angeles companies as a Vistage Chair. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO membership organization, with more than 22,000 members in 19 countries who run companies with annual revenues ranging from $1 million to over $18 billion. Mr. Daly chairs three out of the 50 Los Angeles based Vistage Boards, and will shortly be forming a fourth Board in the San Gabriel Valley. His 40 members make better decisions, become more profitable AND work less, so they can spend more time with their families, do the things they love and have better personal and professional relationships. For additional posts and content, please link here. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org