There are always conversations going on in our heads, and not just with our imaginary friends. As you drive or take public transportation to work, you contemplate the day ahead. You sit through a morning meeting thinking about unfinished tasks. When the new sales person can't remember a process, you form judgments about his comprehension skills. The office manager explains a problem with a vendor and you interrupt to finish her thoughts.
We're bombarded with so many messages each day that our minds almost instinctively tune out much of what we hear, or we attempt to speed up the communication process. We end up missing many things we need to know, and send unintentional signals that we are not interested in what others have to say. Much of the information shared across an organization each day falls on practically deaf ears because we're listening to the voices in our heads rather than the people speaking to us.
We can solve this problem by learning and teaching the skill of generous listening. As the owner or senior manager of the business, it is your responsibility to set standards for effective communication, and to model the behavior. Nothing is more important to the communication process than listening.
When we listen generously, we quiet the voices in our head so we can actually hear what others are saying. We listen not to analyze or determine what is lacking, but to understand what the person intends and the context in which he or she intends it. Generous listening means hearing a person out without being influenced by personal feelings or judgments. Remaining silent to allow someone to complete a thought or make a point does not indicate agreement. Likewise, interrupting does not necessarily show dissent, although it does imply disrespect.
We sometimes brag of being able to finish the sentences of a partner, colleague, subordinate, spouse, friend, or other person we know well. But we can end up off base, taking the conversation in a direction the original speaker never intended, and making the other person feel that we don't place a high value on his or her thoughts. There is no better way to connect with another person than listening to what he or she has to say. And no quicker route to severing a connection than failing to pay attention. This happens when you spend time you should be listening pre-forming conclusions about what the other person is going to say, or planning a counter point.
Instead, when people speak, assume that what they are saying is intended in a positive way. Pause before speaking up to respond, giving yourself time to acknowledge your own feelings and emotions. Taking the time to hear what others say can improve overall communication, which in turn can strengthen the bonds between people and improve commitment to the organization.
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