Are you listening carefully?

I’ve been thinking about listening recently, having watched a Ted talk by the virtuoso percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie.  Dame Glennie has performed with a range of musical talents, and with every major orchestra in America and Europe. She is also profoundly deaf. 

She learnt to ‘hear’ music by putting her hands on the wall of the music room, as the music was being played. She plays music by allowing the vibrations of the instrument to reverberate through her whole body; hands, legs, tummy, head, feet, as she plays without shoes. Like any other musician, she is able to hear what she plays; but she does so by engaging her whole body. 

This got me wondering how we can improve our ability to listen, in a way that is over and above hearing with our ears, and particularly what the impact of that could be in the workplace, where many of us spend most of our time.

Why is listening important in the workplace?

Staff fulfilment. When I am listened to, it makes me feel as if my ideas are valuable, the company is better off with my contribution, and it stirs me to provide more value in what I do.

Staff wellbeing. If you notice that someone is not their normal self and you ask them how they are, they then have the opportunity to tell you.  If it’s a personal issue, you can then consider how to support them, so they can move forward.

Your people are more likely to come with you, when you need to make changes, or problems occur. If you are listening to ideas or concerns and acting upon them, when faced with a change process your people will know that from experience, they will be listened to, and that they can trust you.

It releases new ideas into the company. We all come with our own unique packages of upbringing, education, passions, talents and opinions; these can be left untapped, if we don’t intentionally ask each individual for e.g., ideas on how to do things better.

How can I listen well at work?

Learn to ‘tune in’ to your own intuition or gut feeling. Have you ever felt uneasy about pursuing a course of action? Maybe it’s meant acting against one of your core values. It may be trying to save money by cutting your customer service training, when one of your values is providing great customer service.

Be sensitive to behaviour that is ‘out of character’. One of the key components of Roffey Park Institute’s Compassion in the Workplace Model is ‘being alive to the suffering of others’ and particularly in noticing changes in behaviour. Is someone unusually quiet, avoiding interaction, withdrawn, quick to get snappy or just turning up looking like they haven’t slept? It may be that they are trying to hide some emotional distress from you because they don’t want to be seen as weak.

Be available. I’m not sure how he did it, but my very busy former CEO never turned me away when I went to talk to him.  Having times when you door is open, builds a feeling of value and trust in your people.

How to create a listening culture

Start with yourself. Practice listening with your whole body to others. Watch their body language, tone of voice, how they look. Be empathetic, allow yourself to feel what others are feeling, ask questions.

Recognise the barriers to listening. These include busyness, preoccupation with deadlines, or a reluctance to accept that others may have better ideas than you. 

Teach your leaders to listen. The most effective way to shape culture is to model it from the top. An orchestral conductor knows when someone is playing out of tune; they can detect discordance (you always hope it isn’t you!).  Teach your managers to hear/sense when there is unhappiness in the team.

Create ways to facilitate listening. Create an hour slot every week for any member of staff to come and talk to you about anything; have walking meetings.

Take action when you are given new ideas or feedback on something that isn’t working well.  Follow up. This will integrate your value of listening into your culture and show staff that you mean it. 

One of the most powerful ways of valuing people is to listen to them