Unless one is a hermit, human beings routinely communicate with each other. Effective communication is vitally important to our success in both our personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, we often fail to communicate well and this leads to a host of problems. In this blog post I share sound advice about how listening is the key to effective communication, taken from a book one of my mentors published almost forty years ago (more about that book below).

A great deal of effort is devoted to improving one’s oral skills. What a pity so little is spent improving the other half because communication does not exist until hearing has taken place. Listening is not passive. It is the active effort to understand another person. Good listeners are rare. It takes someone not preoccupied with his own thoughts but truly interested in the person speaking. Listening is respect. It is a sign of maturity and appreciation for the other person’s viewpoint. Particularly to be the sort of successful manager described in these pages, one must devote appropriate time and energy sharpening listening skills or fail as an effective manager.

Why don’t we listen? “My mind is made up—don’t bother me with the facts,” epitomizes a few such people. To listen may create a problem of changing our firmly held opinions.

I have seen far more supervisors get into trouble because they didn’t listen to their people than I have seen get into trouble because of poor oral skills. Most of us would rather work for and give that winning effort for an individual who listened well than one who had superb diction or command of the language.

Good managers are good listeners—to their bosses if they want to keep their jobs, to their group if they want to be successful managers. Listening is an essential management skill.

How many employees have you heard say, “My supervisor simply will not listen to me.” If your experience is similar to mine, I predict that you have heard this phrase many times when evaluating a problem area. Furthermore, the supervisor who is accused of this failing will often be described as a super egotist, more interested in oneself and one’s own words than in the employee’s. This complaint may also be the downfall of highly educated, individualistic professionals. “He doesn’t listen or answer my questions and does not seem concerned about me” is a common complaint, though not directed at the person-oriented professional.

When you talk you only hear what you know. When you listen you hear what someone else knows. Listen to grow, to learn to be a successful manager.

This book excerpt certainly makes it clear that listening is essential to effective communication.

In a previous Vantage Point blog post, “Breaking Through Verbal Communication Deadlocks” (https://courtleader.net/2018/10/02/breaking-through-verbal-communication-deadlocks/), I provided a step by step set of keys to effective listening, speaking, and resolving communication problems – go back and read that post for a practical guide on how you can improve your verbal communication. We all can work to be better communicators!

The book excerpt above is from Memos to Managers, by Norman Harry Meyer (Rocky Mountain Press, 1982, pp 45-47). My father was a U.S. Navy officer and hospital administrator; he was also my first professional mentor. His book in the style of short “memos to managers” on a wide range of topics has been close to my desk throughout my career. I am proud to pass on the “Listening” chapter to you in this blog post (and perhaps I will excerpt other “memos” in future blog posts!).

5 thoughts on “Listening is the Key to Effective Communication

  1. Good article. Two questions that would be interesting to explore.

    To what extent is the lack of effective listening related to employee disengagement? It seems that if an employee has gotten the courage up to confront their boss on an issue and then the boss doesn’t listen, a logical employee response would be to simply stop engaging. This could be an interesting question because some of the literature seems to blame employees for employee disengagement.

    How much does power imbalance play into listening or not listening? A boss (who might be championing some campaign), is confronted by an employee who needs to tell the boss that the campaign is not getting to line staff. A very common boss response is to cutoff the employee by saying “you are not listening to what the message!” Understandable boss response since a champion must have passion, but the power imbalance squelches employee feedback.

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  2. Sure, employee disengagement would be a common result from a manager’s lack of listening. Thus, blame for such disengagement can definitely be ascribed to a manager’s poor management verbal skills. The power imbalance between management and staff also greatly colors verbal communication — all the more reason that managers need to be ultra sensitive to being good listeners!

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  3. Good article. Good listeners are exceedingly rare. Children are raised to become good listeners by parents who listen carefully to them. This is an extreme act of generosity and love.
    I shudder when I see children desperately trying to communicate with their parents, while the parents let them know they are busy with more important stuff than to listen to them. 🤗 Children who have had the luxury of being well listened to become excellent listeners themselves.

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