Listening
Chandra Louise, Ph.D.

"Let's discuss what you like and don't like about your jobs," the boss said.

The employees talked.The boss listed their comments on a chalkboard.At the end of the 20-minute discussion, the group had a long list of parameters they liked and didn't like about their jobs.

The boss then ended the discussion, and the meeting moved on to the next topic.

The employees walked away from this meeting feeling frustrated.It turns out that this boss was not using this exercise to increase employee job satisfaction.Instead, he was taking the things employees said and turning them into a staff development plan that he could show to his own boss.

In other words, this boss was not listening to his employees!

Listening is an important skill.Indeed, on the Toxic Boss Web site, we receive many complaints from employees about bosses who don't listen to them.When bosses don't listen, employees become demoralized and demotivated, and they lose enthusiasm for their jobs.When bosses do listen, employees feel respected, valued, and cared about, feelings that translate into a motivated and responsible work force.

What is listening? Listening is not just being silent while another is talking. Indeed, listening is a very complicated skill.Listening involves many different facets, all of which are important for true communication to take place.

Good listening requires that the listener look at the issue from another's perspective. Good listening is quick to accept and slow to judge. Good listening means accepting the other person's beliefs, and trying to understand the reasons behind them.You needn't necessarily agree with those beliefs, but good listening requires that you accept them and validate them as the other person's reality.

Good listening also means truly trying to understand what the other person is trying to say.True understanding requires patience, giving the other person enough time to express his or her views.It also means asking for clarification or for more information if you don't understand something.It also means looking for the subtle nuances in the other person's message - things that are implied or intended but may not be said directly.

Being a good listener involves active work.Being a good listener takes time.Nonetheless, listening to your workers has many advantages.Good listening can teach you all sorts of valuable information about your business.It can also have very valuable effects on the morale of your workers - which can save youtime and effort in the long run.

I urge you to try the following exercise.Find someone whom you can listen to. The person doesn't have to be an employee; in fact, I urge you to try this exercise first with someone you're comfortable with.Forward the phone, turn off the beeper, shut your door, and eliminate all distractions.Then just let the other person talk about a topic of his or her choice, for 3 solid minutes.You can say things like, "mmm hmmm", or occasionally ask for clarification, but not much more.If there's some silence, that's okay.Don't interrupt that silence.Just let the other person think and talk as he or she feels comfortable, about an issue that's important to him or her.

What have you learned?

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