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This is the first of a two-part series on improving communications at MidSouth. Communication, more specifically listening, is the third of our eight pillars of cultural excellence. In Habit 5 of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey said “Seek First to Understand then to be Understood”. He believed that this habit lay at the center of effective communication. If you notice, this habit is about seeking understanding, rather than being heard. This is so difficult for most of us to do. However, when we become active listeners, we can establish ourselves as someone people feel comfortable coming to with issues. When they do come, this greatly enhances our opportunities to impact those around us.

It is easy to recognize the signs of poor listening/communication in the workplace. Where there are poor communications there is often low morale, low levels of collaboration, more conflict and increased levels of stress. One of the leading causes of failed relationships, personal or professional, is one party not feeling understood by the other. In a study conducted by Forbes magazine, 74% of employees report they are more effective in their job when they feel heard. However, 86% of the employees surveyed did not feel they were listened to or understood at work.

People long to be listened to. When people are listened to they feel valued. When employees feel valued, they remain engaged and tend to be higher performing, productive and happier employees. So why is this such an issue? Why do we fail to do something that we know would have a such positive impact? In this article I want to explore a few common barriers to effective listening:

  1. Dissatisfaction or Disinterest With One’s Job If you are unhappy or have lost interest in your job, you are far less likely to communicate effectively – both on the giving and receiving ends.

  2. Failure to Listen to Others Active listening is an important aspect of effective communication. You cannot engage with someone if you are not listening to them because you will tend to make assumptions about their needs based on your perceptions versus reality.

  3. Lack of Transparency & Trust It is extremely difficult to communicate anything when there is a lack of transparency and trust. For example, if your staff believes you are holding something back, they will be anxious, some will speculate, and as a result, it will be more difficult for them to process any attempt you make to communicate with them.

  4. Communication Styles (when they differ) Everyone has their own communication style. Some people are very direct while others prefer a more indirect approach. Occasionally, one person is so entrenched in their way of communicating, that they find it difficult to communicate with others who rely on a different style.

  5. Conflicts in the Workplace Conflict can happen for a variety of reasons and when it does, it becomes a barrier to effective communication. The nature of the conflict is not necessarily important, what is important is working to resolve the conflict. When conflict is not eradicated, it grows and then people begin to take sides, which further impedes effective communication.

I hope this helps you identify a few things that you can eliminate to become a more effective listener/communicator. Next week we will deep dive into the concept of ACTIVE LISTENING and

Active listening means as the name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively hearing the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all the senses. These include our non-verbals like our posture, our facial expressions, and our eye contact. This also involves eliminating distractions so that we can focus on the message.

Listening is not something that just happens (that’s hearing), listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen and understand the message of the speaker. Listeners should remain neutral and non-judgmental, this means trying not to take sides or form opinions, especially early in conversations. Active listening is also about patience. Listeners should not be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there is a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings, they should, therefore, be given adequate time for that.

So we have established the value of improving listening to improve communications.

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