Are You Listening? The Significance of Listening in a Distracted World
I have been reading Kate Murphy’s recently published You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters and find its implications for managing today’s virtual workplace very relevant and intriguing. Murphy argues that people today occupy mini-digital bubbles and, as a result, have not only lost the ability to listen, but live in increasing isolation. Most people are either focused on expressing their own opinions or distracted by technology. According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average attention span has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds before people start reading texts, checking notifications, or seeing what’s trending online. As employers, we value eloquence and clarity, but what about effective listening skills? During the coronavirus pandemic, I believe listening is just as significant and impactful as speaking when it comes to being fully engaged and productive while working in our virtual home offices.
In today’s high-tech, high-stress, fast-paced world, we do not spend a lot of time truly listening to each other. Having effective listening skills essentially means not only taking interest in what is being said but understanding the message through “active listening,” which involves both verbal and nonverbal cues. These nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, facial expressions, and body language, often send an entirely different message from what is being verbally spoken. Interestingly, men and women listen differently. According to authors Kittie Watson and Larry Barker in Listen Up, women process messages on both sides of the brain while men tend to process more on the left side of the brain. Women effectively access the full message, reading reactions and listening, and have a more holistic understanding. In this regard, women-owned businesses, like Nolij, may have an advantage when it comes to listening to clients and delivering results faster without miscommunication delays.
Effective communication, including active listening, is a key skill in business and leaders and entrepreneurs often attribute their success to effective listening. Richard Branson, for example, frequently quotes his ability to listen as being one of the main factors behind the success of Virgin Airlines. As a leader, I too have observed how truly listening and processing client and employee feedback is essential to establishing trust, maintaining effective relationships, solving problems, resolving conflicts, and reaching organizational goals.
During the coronavirus pandemic, listening has taken on a new significance for employees and leaders. Many teams are working remotely, removing nonverbal cues from the equation, and many professionals are distracted. They are struggling to manage online school with their children, work, and home. As a working mother, I appreciate the current challenges and would encourage parents to spend a few minutes listening to their children uninterrupted by multi-tasking and giving them the full attention they are seeking. Children will give parents space once they are content with being heard. More than ever, employees too need assurance that they are being heard, and that their views and opinions matter. We also need to especially listen to our staff who are excellent listeners because their perspectives are vital to finding solutions to current business challenges—they hear the message behind the words. As business leaders, effective listening is vital as it helps us meet our employees and teams where they are and navigate our organizations more effectively.
Anyone can become a better listener by reducing distractions, eliminating background activity and noise, and practicing how to be truly present. Does your phone draw away your attention? Switch it to silent mode or put it away during one-on-one conversations. Addicted to flipping through websites, reports, or files on your laptop while on a video call? Minimize anything that’s irrelevant and switch to the video call’s full-screen option. “Listening is often regarded as talking’s meek counterpart,” Kate Murphy writes. However, the best leaders know that listening is a valuable opportunity to build a better brand and advance collaboration.