There is listening to speak, and then there is listening to understand. As a podcaster with over 270 episodes of my current show, I have seen both – but most of my guests listen to speak.

The trouble is, when you are listening to figure out when you can interrupt and pontificate again, you are not truly listening. Yes, you may hear the words, but you are not internalizing them, understanding them, and formulating answers based upon cohesive thoughts.  Instead, you have listened to a certain point you know you can expound upon, and have stopped listening to what else the other person is saying.

That is not a conversation. It is asynchronous communication, disjointed, and usually reveals that you care far more about what you have to say than hearing the thoughts and ideas of the other person.

In last month’s article, “There is ROI in Humanity,” I used the statistic that $37 billion per year is wasted due to ineffective internal communication. This stems from people not listening to each other. People make assumptions and move forward with actions based on what they believe the perceived outcome should be, without verifying if what they are doing fulfills its mission and goals.

This amount is staggering, and at face value, it should be a wake-up call for every CEO and member of a leadership team. It should force them to create cultural norms, processes, and systems for effective listening skills within their organizations.

People drone on in meetings, send ineffective communication through the wrong channel, and speak at (instead of to) team members. Those team members eventually tune out. 

They tune out for a wide range of reasons. These can include not fully understanding goals, priorities, and how they matter. Not feeling listened to, understood, or valued also contribute. All of this leads to apathy, and apathy is what turns great brands into worthless commodities.

If we expect people to listen, we need to make communications relevant to them. Not every person thinks, acts, or digests information the same way you do. Some people are auditory learners, some visual, and others learn by doing. Therefore, approaching a large and diverse workforce singularly and expecting them all to retain information, internalize it, and recall it as you do is asking way too much.

Some people can actively listen, retain information, and recall it at will, but most cannot. Having information repeated to them over time, in different ways, allows them to understand and retain it. Think of it like seeing a billboard at the side of the road. The first ten times you pass it, you may not even notice it, and it may take thirty times passing the same sign before you take action.

Some people need more information, and some need less, but all need to be communicated in language and mediums relevant to them.

Yes, this is hard work! However, it is way easier and more cost effective to make sure people understand things before spending hundreds of thousands or millions on an initiative, only to see it fail due to a lack of understanding or needed buy-in.

The second part of the equation is that people want to know you care about them as human beings. Each person comes to the office with their hopes, wants, fears, needs, and desires.  They have different priorities, issues, and conditions, and treating everyone the same way disenfranchises everyone. People want to know that when they bring an idea or concern forward, someone will make the effort to listen to them, understand their point of view, and value them as a human being.

It is the difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is understanding things from other people’s viewpoints; sympathy is merely feeling sorry for them. No one wants people to feel sorry for them, but they do want to be understood. They realize every concern they have may not be addressed or fixed. Providing reasons why it cannot be addressed enables people to feel they have been acknowledged and heard – even if nothing can be done.

If people understand the why behind the decision, they will feel valued.

We need to actively listen to others, and we deserve to be actively listened to. It is all about setting up agreed-upon expectations and holding everyone accountable.

Wishing you success.

Connect with Ben HERE to discuss how to provide your people with the skills and mindset they need to communicate effectively within the new normal and beyond to differentiate your brand in the eyes of your clientele.