We are often in a state of distraction with so many things going on around us, and so much demanding our attention that the simple act of listening to a friend or colleague needs to take its place as yet another distraction in the queue.
A participant in a course I was conducting had this to say about how well we listen to each other.
“There was very little eye contact, when I was speaking to one of my colleagues. He was very intent on watching his cell and email continuously. This devalued a lot of what I had to say”.
“Another colleague, was trying to remember what she wanted to say to me, and searched through her desk as I was talking to her, making me feel anxious, and left me rambling through most of my message”.
“I think it is the ‘fast food’ life that we are leading that is the cause of us hearing people but not listening to them. We try to get our message across in as short a time as possible. This means that we are so focused on our message we miss out on the response we get. I sometimes feel that we don’t even really care about people’s response to our messages, and only notice extremes, such as negativity or anything that seriously impacts on our lives”.
Can you relate to her observations?
It seems from her experience that we are often in a state of distraction with so many things going on around us, and so much demanding our attention that the simple act of listening to a friend or colleague needs to take its place as yet another distraction in the queue. Face to face conversation has to compete with cell ‘phones and emails for attention. Our message has to penetrate through the other person’s urgent “to do” list if we are to be heard.
How does being treated like that make you feel? The work place, although crowded, can be a very lonely environment filled with people each pursuing their own agenda, so distracted by their own needs that they are unable to form fulfilling relationships with their colleagues. When we try to get our own message across we have to penetrate the barriers of their distractions, agendas, pressures and priorities. And we have to be tough enough to stay the course and say what we need to say in spite of the signals which suggest what we have to say is not important. The workplace can be a very lonely and sometimes hurtful place.
So how do we deal with the poor listening skills which not only block our relationships but also hinder our effectiveness?
One way is to adopt the same style ourselves. It is very easy to treat others as we are treated rather than the way we would like to be treated. So we allow our own distractions to get in the way of our listening. We listen with half an ear while we carry on with the things that are important to us. We send out the signals that the other person is getting in the way. And we learn to only listen to the harsh and negative comments which somehow always penetrate the barrier. Our listening is reduced to hearing the negatives, which only compounds the loneliness and the hurt.
There is, of course, another option. Listen to how the course participant I referred to earlier ended off her observations.
“I found that I was a mirror to how others listened to me. If I found their attention wandering I found my attention wandering instead of trying harder to engage them. Once I realized I was doing this I tried harder to listen intently to all the conversations of the day. I was amazed to notice that when I listened more, other people responded to someone truly taking the time to listen”.
It seems that if we want to create more effective relationships in the workplace we need to become the kind of people we want others to be. We need to be the reality we are looking for. If we want to be listened to, we need to listen. If we don’t want to have to penetrate the distractions of others in order to be heard, we must check ourselves when we find that we are distracted and focus on hearing the person. This is not an easy solution, and it does take time. But you will notice that when you start living out the vision you would like to have for your environment, other people who share your values and vision will start responding positively, and in time your resolve will turn the tide and you will find yourself being treated in the way you treat others.