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 Monday 7 December, 2015

It starts with listening

by  Jenny Lanyon on Monday 7 December, 2015

‘Listening well and deeply means going beyond what is said by asking questions, restating in one’s own words what you hear to be sure you understand. This is active listening.’

(Goleman, 1998)

Although listening is a skill we all understand and practise in our daily lives, it can be surprisingly difficult to do effectively. To test out this statement, try listening to someone you know well for ten minutes without speaking. You should show interest by any means other than using words – nodding, saying ‘mmm’ looking attentive, and so on. It isn’t easy to avoid jumping in with words of agreement, reassurance, or even disagreement. And yet when we manage to really listen to others, without judging, it is an intensely powerful experience for both parties.

In organisations, feelings run high. Understandably, people feel strongly about their work, and how things should be done. We all know that healthy organisations are those which allow employees to contribute their views about developments. Promoting good listening at all levels in the workplace can do a great deal to reduce stress and disengagement. Listening skills training, though, is as much about helping people to tolerate differing views and opinions, as it is an exercise in acquiring techniques.

Patrick Lencioni, writing about cohesive leadership teams, argues that:

‘Contrary to popular wisdom and behaviour, conflict is not a bad thing for a team. In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems.’

(Lencioni, 2012)

One of the reasons that listening can be so difficult is that it creates discomfort to hear an opposing viewpoint. People naturally shy away from perceived negativity, believing it to be counterproductive. While this is true in some situations, for the most part relationships are enriched by straight talking and honesty. In working life this leads to a more dynamic meeting process, with robust conversations producing resilient outcomes. John Gottman, a marital relationship expert, stresses the need for careful listening and validation of the other person’s perspective, even if the listener is not in agreement with the views expressed. (Gottman, 1999, p.88). In organisations, a range of viewpoints will need to be heard if a way forward is to be agreed. Spending longer over the expression and listening stage before arriving at conclusions contributes to more balanced decisions, as well as happier participants.

Author: Jenny Lanyon

Goleman, D. (1988), ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence,’’ London: Bloomsbury.
Lencioni, P. (2012), ‘The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,’’ San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gottman, J. and Silver, N., (1999), ‘The Seven Principles of Making Marriages Work,’’ London: Orion (Kindle Edition).