Office coffee break with two female colleagues sittng chatting over cups of coffee

Ever been on a call with someone and realize they were only halfway listening? It happened to me this week in a virtual coaching session. I could hear my client typing away. His responses were delayed and hedgy, and his tone told me his attention was elsewhere. Candidly, I felt irritated, disrespected, and like I had just wasted my time (and his money). 

After the session, I thought about times I’ve been guilty of multi-tasking during conversations too. Yep, even a “communication specialist” gets it wrong sometimes. I’ve read emails, texts, and even continued working on another project, while on a call.  

Studies have shown humans are distracted, pre-occupied, and forgetful when “listening” as much as 75% of the time.  In the moment multi-tasking feels like saving time.  In reality, it’s disrespectful and wastes it. When listening gets trumped by available distractions, we don’t receive the intended messages, (if something does catch our attention) we have to ask for repetition, and the likelihood of mutual understanding and accurate follow-through drops significantly.

When we don’t truly listen, balls get dropped, feelings get hurt, and trust takes a hit.

With more vying for our attention today than ever before, it seems fully listening is becoming a dying art.  But make no mistake, be it in-person, on ZOOM, or even the old-fashioned way – on the phone – others know when they don’t have our full attention. Absentminded utterings like “Yeah, Uh-huh, and Right…”, with no context, sends the message you don’t value what the other has to say. Some will wonder why they bother, others will stop bothering…

Let’s think about the reverse for a minute: How do you feel about people who give you their full attention? How do you feel after talking with someone who demonstrates what you are saying is their priority – even if just for a few minutes? 

Valued? Trusted? Respected? All common needs for humans, and the simple act of listening – giving others your full attention in the moment – conveys each.  Receiving the gift of being heard is especially pleasing when it comes from someone in a higher position, or someone you admire.

So, leaders, want to build solid working relationships, increase your value, gain more respect, and enhance trust amongst your team? Start listening. It’s not difficult, but it does require self-awareness. When done well, the simple act of giving our full attention helps us be exceptional. It also minimizes our chances of misunderstandings, while increasing our ability to effectively collaborate and resolve conflict. Talk about ROI! 

Three proven tips for improving your listening skills:

  1. Turn away from your monitor, put down your phone, and give your full attention.  If you don’t have time, let the person know your window is small, or set a specific time later in the day to talk. If you move forward with the conversation, give it your focus for the time you allot.
  2. Recognize what’s going on in your head. When you start formulating your next points or your brain distracts you with some other thought, bring your attention back to the conversation. If you think you missed something, own it. Apologize for the short distraction and admit you didn’t catch everything. Then stay engaged!
  3. Practice active listening. Demonstrate you are fully listening with clarifying questions, restating what you heard, and non-verbal cues (if visible).

Easy enough? Maybe. For the leader who is a chronic multi-tasker – and in today’s world that has clearly become the norm – genuine listening takes practice, but it pays-off in multipliers. The gift of your full attention is a true win/win. 

Contact us today to learn more about increasing your value and capacity as a leader with executive coaching.

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