Are We Really Listening?


Managers and supervisors must be alert to their company's environment and be able to process the information they gain from all around them to effectively carry out their corporate responsibilities.




It is very difficult, if not impossible, to function in a management capacity without mastering the art of listening. Successful managers know that no matter how busy they are, they must always be ready to stop what they are doing to focus on what an employee has told him or her. Effective communication with these people is essential and requires us to employ maximum listening skills.

Are You Really Listening?

Are you a good listener? Take this simple quiz and find out, making sure to answer each question honestly.


When you are listening to someone...

1. Do you offer your views and opinions without first hearing all of what the sender is saying?

Yes No


2. Do you correct what he or she is saying during the conversation?

Yes No


3. Do you jump ahead and ask questions to early, thus disrupting his concentration?

Yes No


4. Do you prefer talking to listening?

Yes No


5. Do you only half listen because you have already jumped ahead to the end of the conversation?


Yes No

6. Do you usually know what the other person is going to say before he or she starts?

Yes No


7. Do you judge the importance of the ensuing conversation by who the person is?

Yes No


8. Do you brush aside a subordinate's ideas because you think yours are better?

Yes No


9. Do you let your eyes wander or fidget while someone is talking to you?

Yes No


10. Do you think of other things while someone is talking to you?

Yes No


Give yourself 10 points for each "No."

If you scored 100 you are either a world-class manager or you are not being honest with yourself.


If you scored 80-90 you have the makings of a good listener and communicator and are probably a good manager or supervisor.


If you scored 60-70 you have serious problems and need to work on your weaknesses.


If you scored 50 or below you are probably out of touch with people and ineffective in your communications with others.


Unfortunately, I find this to be a shortcoming in almost every company I visit in my consulting work. The success of the company is usually proportionate to the dedication of managers and supervisors - from the CEO to the shop foremen - to having open ears to everyone in the company.


Webster's defines listening as:

1) "To make a conscious effort to hear; attend closely; so as to hear.

2) To give heed; take advice."


Notice that Webster's says, "to make a conscious effort." This means it takes effort on our part to truly understand what is being said to us.


Take Time to Listen

Does the following sound familiar to you?


Bill Bost, a supervisor of Lee Woodworking, arrived at work one morning to find Julie, a boring machine operator, waiting at the employee entrance to the factory.


"Bill, I need to talk to you about something," Julie said.


"Not now, Julie. I've got to see who showed up for work today," Bill snapped back as he rushed by her to check out the time clocks.


Julie was left at the door with a blank look on her face. About an hour later Bill was rushing through the shop as Julie motioned for him to come over to her boring machine. Bill held up a finger to signal "one minute." Julie mumbled, "Whatever," and went about her work.


Late that afternoon George grabbed Bill by the arm as he was racing by the maintenance room, almost pulling him to the ground. "Bill, what's going on in the machine department? The boring machine lost a bearing and it did a lot of damage. Someone should have had a warning several hours earlier that this was going to happen. Now it's going to take two days instead of 30 minutes to fix!"


Bill rushed off in a huff to find Julie and ask her why she did not warn anyone of the pending problem. She had tried to warn him, but unfortunately Bill was too caught up in his routine to stop and listen.


We have all been guilty at one time or another of not taking the time to listen, and we often suffer the consequences. We miss opportunities to prevent molehills from becoming mountains of trouble. It does not matter if you are a section leader or the CEO, you have to be ready and willing to listen when someone asks for your ear.


How Well Do You Listen?

Most of us speak at 150 words per minute. However, the mind can absorb and process words and ideas at a much faster rate. Herein lies the stumbling block, that most of us have, to realizing effective management by listening. Our minds will frequently use this "free time" or "extra capacity" to process other thoughts rather than processing what we are hearing from the person speaking. The lack of concentration and listening intently to the speaker often results in misunderstanding the message or results in missed opportunities.


How often have you found yourself racing ahead to the end of the conversation or solving the problem before hearing all of the input? When was the last time you were guilty of looking across the room and thinking about what you were seeing going on over there when someone was trying to tell you something? Typically, if a listener is bored or disinterested in what a person is saying, it will show in his eyes and facial expressions. We have all had that happen to us and know how frustrating that makes us feel.


Active and intense listening conveys a respect for the person and acknowledges his or her value to you and your organization. As I mentioned in my article in the April issue of Wood & Wood Products, "Becoming an Employer of Choice," studies show that the number one desire of employees is to be "listened to." By not hearing your associates out, you are basically telling them that you don't care what they have to say. Worse still, when your associates realize that you're not listening, you are not only missing opportunities, but they feel as if you have slapped them in the face. That's counterproductive to team building to say the least.


Listening Do's & Don'ts

When you are listening, don't:


  • Process what you hear ahead of the facts.
  • Jump to conclusions.
  • Let your mind wander.
  • Let your eyes wander.

When you are listening, do:


  • Look the person straight in the eye.
  • Act as if this is the most important person in the world to you at this moment. You must communicate this by your eye contact, posture and attentiveness.
  • Recognize the person's feelings and emotions.
  • Encourage the speaker to share additional information.
  • Encourage the speaker to offer solutions to the problems discussed.

To listen effectively you must first subordinate your own ideas and feelings and try to understand the ideas and feelings of the other person.


We are all tempted to treat this subject like it is someone else's problem. But don't be so quick. I challenge you to take the quiz on the bottom of page 53. Be honest with yourself. Work on your shortcomings and you will improve your effectiveness in your job. You will also add to your company's bottom line.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.