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.
BY TOM DOSSENBACH
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.
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:
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
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?
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, do:
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.
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