Water Well Journal

November 2015

Water Well Journal

Issue link: http://read.dmtmag.com/i/592194

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Page 57 of 90

O f all the effective administrative tools, listening ap- pears to be the easiest. It is, in fact, the easiest one for us to misuse or overlook—and we do so at the expense of teamwork and efficiency. Despite the impact it has on others and the career boost it can give individuals, "active listening" is often overlooked, misunderstood, and easily dismissed. Its value is not appreci- ated. As a result, few spend time developing a skill at it. Many people already believe they've mastered active listening and see no cause for spending time on work that would improve their listening. Miscommunication and Misconceptions It is fairly common for two people not to understand each other. Oftentimes, without even knowing it, we hold certain misconceptions about how to communicate with one another. These misconceptions create barriers to engaging in effective exchange and genuine conversation. What follows is a list of the common misconceptions we can hold about communication. • If I say it, the other person will understand. Not neces- sarily. Meaning is ascribed by the receiver of a message, so saying it doesn't mean it will be understood. We need to check to see if the meaning of our message is under- stood as we intended. • The more communication, the better! If you are feeling misunderstood, talking too much and talking louder is a mistake. This can actually make a situation worse rather than clarify it. Excessive talking won't help. Try different ways of expressing yourself. And don't forget—knowing when to remain silent and say nothing is part of commu- nicating effectively. • Any problem can be solved anytime if we communi- cate with each other. There are times when taking some time away from each other and the situation can be a bet- ter solution than trying to talk it out. Many a time, really intense emotions like anger or sadness can blow an inter- action out of proportion. A few moments of self-reflection and calm can help you gain perspective on the issue. • Communication is a natural ability—some have it, some don't. Communication is not an innate ability. Skillful communication can be learned with practice. How to Listen There are actually three degrees of listening. The first is merely hearing, a passive function for those who are able to hear. Since we are able to hear without making any effort, we often settle for this and call it "listening." But listening involves more than hearing. Listening hap- pens in the brain, not in the ear. Listening requires hearers to pay attention to what they are hearing. Active listening goes a step further—fully concentrating on and deliberately process- ing what's being heard. Active listening isn't always embraced in the workplace because there is such a premium value placed on multitasking. Managers talk to those who directly report to them while answering emails. Fellow workers converse in snippets as they pass each other in corridors. During meetings, it appears nearly everyone is checking emails and voicemails and doing side work. Focused, fully attentive listening is rare. People spend time preparing to speak—but not preparing to listen. We evaluate others on what they say and how they say it, but not on how well they listen. In fact, all that attention on what we say im- pairs our ability to listen. While someone else is talking, we're thinking about what we are going to say in response. Our own brains work against us because we can think faster than others can speak, so our attention span may naturally wane too. Becoming an Active Listener If you would like to become a more active listener, there are concrete steps you can take to improve your attention span and discipline yourself. These three actions alone will force you to spend more time processing what you are hearing and will demonstrate to the other person that you are genuinely making an effort to be fully engaged. 1. Don't respond until you have all the information. In a typical conversation, we may feel compelled to com- plete a speaker's thoughts or chime in as soon as we under- stand the gist of what's being said. When we respond too quickly, we may appear to be interrupting. Without meaning to, we may be signaling we feel the speaker's ideas and thoughts are less valuable than our own. When we listen actively and attentively, we will be pro- cessing what's being said instead of racing ahead with our own input. When we slow down, we'll give the speaker more room to fully communicate their own complete thoughts. Even if what the speaker says is identical to what we would have said, there is merit in letting the speaker say it. At a minimum, the benefit will be the connection we create just by listening. ALEXANDRA WALSH HOW TO BECOME AN ACTIVE LISTENER Listening happens in the brain, not the ear. PEOPLE AT WORK waterwelljournal.com 54 November 2015 WWJ

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