Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

©2001 Naomi Karten, www.nkarten.com

It was a gray and gloomy day when we pulled into the ski area parking lot, and decided to sit a spell to see if the sun would shine. A carload of skiers pulled in next to us. Not deterred by the fact that the mountain had vanished in the fog, they started unloading their gear. I noticed they had left their headlights on, and told one of them. The fellow nodded, but didn’t turn out the lights. Odd, I thought. Why did he ignore what I told him? Why wasn’t he paying attention? Why didn’t he listen to me? Can you guess?

A few minutes later, as the group prepared for a day on the slippery slopes, they started speaking to each other – in sign language. Ahhhh . . . . It wasn’t that they hadn’t listened. It was that they couldn’t hear.

I pointed to their headlights. They got the message.

Non-hearing at work

In the workplace, most of us at times have felt that others weren’t listening to us. But by “not listening,” we generally don’t mean that they were unable to hear. Rather, we mean that we introduced a change, prescribed a new standard, offered an idea, proposed a solution, or provided advice – and they didn’t do what we wanted them to do, or they did it wrong, or they did something else instead.

But could it be that, on occasion, we communicate in a manner that leads them to react in a way that we describe as “they didn’t listen?” Think about interactions you’ve had with your customers, employees, management, and vendors – or for that matter, your spouse, in-laws, kids, or pets – that led you to conclude that they didn’t listen. How might you have contributed to their non-listening?

Unmask your messages

Was the information you provided masked by clutter, so that they missed it? Though you didn’t intend to, you may have presented your information in such a way that recipients couldn’t distinguish what was critical from all the rest. As a result, they missed it, and therefore didn’t respond as you had hoped.

In reviewing policy manuals and service guides for companies, I frequently find key advice buried among less essential information. Yet it’s easy to highlight critical information so that it clearly stands out. And when speaking, you can use the spoken equivalent of bold type, such as by saying, “The following points are particularly important.”

Review the information you’ve given your customers and others; I predict you’ll find examples of masked messages.

Avoid a you’re-a-jerk attitude

Did you communicate in an offensive or arrogant manner? How you say something is at least as important as what you say if you want others to accept your directions and recommendations. Even the best advice is worth little if presented in an off-putting manner. If your tone of voice or choice of words convey a you’re-a-jerk, I’m-a-genius attitude, it’s hard to fault those on the receiving end for dismissing not only the information, but you as well. If you want others to be receptive to your offerings, think about how you come across. Would you listen to someone who sounded like you do?

View the world through their eyes

Did you communicate in a way that failed to take their views into account? How you see things is invariably different from how others see the very same things. If you want to sell your ideas to them, you have to consider their perspective. To do so, you may need to learn more about that perspective. Then present your ideas so that you’re clearly taking their concerns into account. Sometimes, gaining their attention is as simple as asking a few questions to learn more about their pressures and priorities. The very process of asking and then listening (that is, you listening to them) may make them receptive to listening to you in return.

Explain the why behind the what

Did you explain the reasoning behind your decisions? Or did you sound like you were issuing directives, orders and mandates? No doubt, your policies, standards and decisions are well thought out. However, in the absence of any explanation about how they came to be and why they matter, they may appear to the other party to be arbitrary and without rationale. It’s not standards, policies, guidelines, procedures and instructions that people resist; it’s being confronted with these rules-of-the-road with no understanding of the whys and wherefores. If it’s important to you that your ideas are accepted, explain the reasoning behind them. Doing so can be an eye-opener that leads the other party to respond, “Oh, now I understand.”

Synchronize what you say with what you do

Did you violate the very standards you created to guide your customers, suppliers, co-workers and members of other teams in working with you? Being responsive means occasionally making an exception. Just be aware of the message those exceptions communicate. Whenever there is a contradiction between what you claim you’re going to do and what you actually do, it’s what you actually do that customers notice. So don’t expect them to “listen” to standards that define your boundaries if you frequently step outside those boundaries. If you find yourself doing it often, it may be time to modify either those standards or your actions, so that they are in synch with each other.

The following point is particularly important

The next time you find yourself claiming others don’t listen to you, S-T-O-P and ask what you might be doing to contribute to this situation. Then decide what you can do differently so that they not only listen, but want to listen. Ya’ hear?

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