We Hear But Do We REALLY Listen?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Do you ever find yourself speaking to someone and notice that they are battling you and their iPhone? A quick glance here, a one- or two-word text response there. Unfortunately, it is the new normal — whether in business or in our personal lives. Those of us who encountered different forms of technology tools and platforms during the second half of our careers still believe that effective interpersonal communication still counts for something. Of course, in this era of uncivil discourse, speaking over one another has, too, become the new normal.

Whether you are a service provider, a doctor or involved in any other profession that requires feedback, learning to be a careful listener will improve your knowledge and problem- solving skills. It shows care, courtesy and concern, the vital building blocks of developing and maintaining relationships.

We should all assess our own listening skills no matter the venue. Consider whether you are a (an):

Cardboard cutout? This is the person who is looking not at you but through you; preprogrammed to nod every so often. You will find these people at conferences or various business events who are subtly looking over your shoulder to see who they think they really need to speak with.

Investigator? This is the person who will ask questions of you not to really to interact but really to extract information he or she believes is vital to know. This person does not expect it to be a two-way sharing of information. And anything that deviates from gaining facts and shifts into the more personal or emotional arena is verboten.

Evaluator? This person looks to find fault or ways to disagree with you because only his or her opinion really matters. You can be assured that the other person is not listening to your ideas or positions.

Reactor? This person is on the lookout for a potential problem and will focus laser-like on one specific element to the exclusion (and tuning out) of more important matters of greater significance.

Impediment? This person may appear to be interested in what you have to say but may be looking for an opening to push his or her own agenda and completely dismiss what you have to say.

Imposter? This person does not effectively hide his or her interest in what you have to say. His or her mind drifts in and out. When it drifts back in the person wants to redirect or hurry the conversation along so he or she can get in their own questions. This goes back to the personal agenda characteristic found in the Impediment style.

These different styles of listening are not mutually exclusive, but if you are in a leadership position or aspiring to reach a certain level, you will have to be introspective and be cognizant of your style and its effect on others. You will be far more successful to be “in the moment” and exercise respect, patience and courtesy.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, especially if that person is a boss, subordinate or a client. You don’t want the third-degree or be subjected to condescension. You want to be recognized for your value and thoughts; to be given the opportunity not only to be heard, but to actually be really listened to.

In this day and age of constant distraction and disruption, the challenge is to overcome this and be a flexible and effective listener. People get accused of bloviating; they do not get criticized for being a good listener.

Being a good listener helps to build close relationships no matter the situation. You may be viewed as trustworthy, and this trust will engender a higher level of comfort and sharing of confidential information.

“Thank you for sharing. I am interested in hearing more.” These two sentences can yield enormous benefits for both parties.

Make them part of your conversational portfolio. It can improve working relationships in a business or in a service provider/client dynamic.

Imagine this: The person is talking, you are listening and engaging, and all the while your phone keeps buzzing. You ignore it.

What a refreshing and worthwhile way to have a give-and-take conversation, whether in a meeting or at the dinner table.


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.