Listening opens the door to collaboration. When we listen to others, we take part in the sharing of ideas and information, which can lead to a deeper understanding.
You and everyone on your team win by becoming good listeners. Here’s why.
When listening to one another, you are acknowledging one another. Have you ever spoken to someone and realized they were not listening? Someone who is listening to you is signalling that they want to hear what you are saying. When no one’s listening, we instinctively know it’s not worth speaking up. In a culture that values listening, contributions increase in number and quality.
By listening, you show respect for the person you are listening to. Paying attention to what someone is saying shows your willingness to invest time in considering their thoughts. When people feel they are not being heard, relationships suffer. Letting others know they have been heard is one of the most effective things you can do to build strong relationships.
Listening shows trust and openness. You are showing an investment in the relationship when you listen to someone. You demonstrate your value for their time, thoughts and feelings, and for a sense of mutual understanding to grow between you.
When we listen to others, we build understanding. We open ourselves to change, to new ideas, to deeper exchanges, to finer insight. Listening builds quality. Ensuring good listening practices during difficult conversations can even aid in resilience and recovery.
This is all good stuff for collaboration as much as for the advancement of humankind.
Signs that we need to change our listening habits.
Teams build on what the members produce. So you’d think teams would always fully capture and grasp the many bright ideas being put forward in a true spirit of cooperation. But this is not always the case.
It may seem like a lot of work to listen to others and build understanding. Sometimes we don’t take the time to hear or read about ideas being put forward by others. But projects don’t evolve without input from all the players. Collaboration that is not going well is a sure sign that someone is not being heard.
Here are some other signs that there is not enough listening going on:
- Speakers are interrupted
- Comments are ignored or set aside
- Emotions run high
- Small groups or cliques form
- One or two people have all the information
- Some team members don’t have information or resources they need
- There is no plan to deal with a looming issue
What are some others? Let me know in the comments section.
It may affect peoples’ sense of security and achievement to share and cooperate with a group. There need to be clear rewards for being cooperative, in that the individuals are acknowledged, listened to, credited for their contribution, and considered valuable as members. When the group project is spoken of outside of the group, everyone’s contribution is reflected.
By modelling good listening, you can start a change among your team members.
What makes a good listener?
When we listen to someone, we don’t just hear the words they are saying. There are all the things going on inside our own head about, say, the job, about our personal life, about our situation — all layers that cloud our understanding of what is being said.
Think back a little to when someone spoke with you. Did you feel a craving, notice a detail, wonder what time it is, judge how well or poorly ideas are being expressed, or decide how much you agree/disagree with the points being made?
It’s hard to stop our internal dialogue. So let’s not focus on that. There are many other steps we can take to become a better listener. Keeping eye contact, staying open, not interrupting, expressing compassion, noticing body language. It is important to make the effort to be good at listening.
When the speaker pauses, you can ask good questions about what is being said. This will focus you and the person you are listening to. It will help you reach a mutual understanding. And asking questions is a way to raise concerns without over-reacting or seeming to challenge the speaker.
When the speaker finishes, you can summarize what was said to make sure you understood, and to show that you have grasped the ideas correctly. You can ask for clarifications and expansion on some points as well.
If you would like to make comments on what they said, it is ok to do that after summarizing and acknowledging that you heard what they said. You can pick up on some things and discuss what more could be done. Together, you might even want to reframe the discussion and move it to another level.
This is how great collaboration works, and listening can go on all the time, formally and informally in all interchanges. The world would be a better place if we listened more and got better at it.
Photo credit: Listen, a sculpture by Tom Nussbaum is at New Jersey’s Montclair Art Museum. The photo is by Wally Gobetz, through Creative Commons.