One of the most consistently underrated skills in the workplace – and beyond it – is the ability to really listen and comprehend what someone is trying to say to you. I probably fall pretty far down the spectrum of listener vs talker. I actually need to talk more. That said, I’ve found that you can learn so much about someone by listening to them and observing their body language. The less you talk about your point of view and the more questions you ask about their view on the world, the more you can connect with someone. Unfortunately this skill is frequently questioned at work. People are considered to be disengaged if they aren’t babbling away.
On my recent trip (you’re probably getting sick of this by now – but…) I was subjected to a couple of talkers who weren’t listeners. It was a painfully frustrating experience for me. I guess being in the engineering field spares me from a lot of this behavior on a day to day basis. Most engineers are pretty precise in their method of communication. They also are usually introverted thinkers. There isn’t a lot of extraneous fluff.
During my trip, if there was even a little bit of silence, it had to be filled. Generally it was filled with drivel. I didn’t need to hear about long forgotten pet turtles riding in barbie doll cars when when our naturalist on the trip was trying to explain the differences between turtles and tortoises. This wasn’t coming from a young child – it was coming from a woman who was nearly 50! She would talk and talk and talk, interspersing questions along the way, continuing to talk over any attempts to answer them. At one point earlier in the week I tried to answer a question that she repeatedly asked – and got talked over three times. Three strikes and you’re out – from that point I didn’t bother trying to answer her at all. I guess the answer wasn’t important or interesting to her, what was important was filling all the available airtime.
Lest you think that I am picking on the female half of the species, I’d also like to introduce another offender that I call “captain obvious”. Pick the most inane obvious observation that one can possibly make, and state it. Repeat. Don’t bother asking interesting or thoughtful questions. Take the information that someone just told you, and ask something about it that was clearly stated in the first place, proving time and time again that you weren’t listening one iota. Every evening at dinner we went over the next day’s itinerary and what we should look for. Almost every morning he would ask “what island are we going to today?” Huh? During the evening we sometimes had quizzes to pass the time after dark. Our guide would ask us questions about what we learned during the day. The big talkers in the group weren’t able to recall much of anything. In one ear, out the other. After a while our guide gave up. He didn’t provide us with lectures or videos at night because it was clear that some folks couldn’t handle the information overload. That made me sad. I would have liked to learn more.
Unfortunately, I have seen this behavior at work as well. I can’t tell you how many times a big talker assumes that everyone is in agreement with him (or her) because he never bothered to listen or watch body language. Keep on talking and the rest of the room starts to get restless. No one is making eye contact, and guess what – you’ve been tuned out. Feeling the need to talk without soliciting feedback pretty much guarantees that the other participant in the conversation will disengage. Notice when eyes start to glaze over. Stop. Listen. Who knows what you might actually learn when you give the other person an opening. Yes, it might not be what you want to hear, but at least you will know where the other party stands on a topic. Talking at them won’t change their mind, you’ll just come across as pushy.
This is where real creativity comes can occur. When you know what is important to someone else it is a lot easier to come to an agreement that is mutually acceptable. When brianstorming together you invariably can come up with a much better solution than either one of you could devise independently.