As a child growing up in the early 90s, I would turn on the TV to watch some Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon cartoons. However, this is short lived when one of my parents would walk in to the room and turn off the TV. They'd talk about the value of the conversation and how technology will slowly turn us into reclusive species. As a child that wanted nothing else but to watch what I would argue is the golden age of TV, I did not appreciate them ruining my 'happy time'. Listening is a necessary tool and is something I hold dearly.
Listening - a weak skill?
People mistake listening for weakness. Imagine yourself in the workplace and someone does not contribute to the conversation that much, and after the meeting, one of your other colleagues tell you "What was the point in Steve coming into the meeting when he did not provide anything useful to us?" or "Is there something wrong with Steve, he hardly said a word in that meeting". The reason for this is that humans think of great leaders as great speakers think of Martin Luther King Jr's famous speech "I have a dream". A speech that stands firm as a symbol towards wanting equality for all. Another example is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one that accomplished nothing less than the transformation of the very meaning of the Civil War. With no mention of the war and the fallen soldiers, it was meant for something larger. The discourse on the experiment whether the American government can maintain its proposition of equality. The government tainted by slavery and the graves in Gettysburg made an atoning sacrifice for this evil. This resulted in the constitution being rewritten living up to its promise of freedom and equality for all.
This is all well and good until you find out that great orators of our world, don't actually write their own speeches. What you are experiencing, is someone telling you something that he or she has not written themselves, are their words theirs? No. You are just listening to people who have stood on the shoulders of great writers and get their fame from them. Another example of this is, Elvis Presley, great singer but did not write their own song.
It is dangerous to judge the words of people as they may not be their own.
At school, we were taught to take notes, even in subjects that we were not interested in. I did not fully appreciate this until I started my job just over a year ago. This was my first job and I began capturing my thoughts and interests with whatever situation at work I put myself in. Taking notes on my notebook have served me incredibly well with protection from the blame game, trying to remember things that I surely will not remember a few minutes later. These stacks of notebook that I have fill up the blank spaces that my human mind can not hope to remember - Notetaking is complementary to listening.
I would argue that notetaking is my best tool in the workplace. When someone would say to me "Well, When we had our meeting last time, we agreed to do this, how come it's not done?" and my simple response is "Well, according to our last meeting notes, you had to get this for me before I could start on my work" - killed it.
Write this down now so you don't forget 🙂
Listening does not equal hearing
One of the most common things I hear in the workplace in my limited experience is someone saying "Yes, I understand", what we have to understand that hearing is not necessarily hearing. I will now list out a few background noises I hear at work - paper printing, the coffee machine pouring coffee and the kettle boiling. I can hear these things all the time but I don't take full focus of it.
One thing that makes me very sad is looking at the phone or emails whilst in a meeting. Is it really asking too much to have half an hour someones time? Is his time more important than mine? Does appearing to be busy justify their own perceived value? I have noticed that when I started taking more notes and putting my phone and laptop away whilst in a meeting, people started asking me more questions about what has happened in the meeting. An example of this is just yesterday, "Hey, I know you take alot of notes, I know that we have to get this done and I just want to know if I got the right thing done" and surely my notes did not fail me. I was able to give my colleague the extra information that he was missing - nailed it.
I can gaurantee that this will work, once you start listening more you will be pleasantly surprised by how people will appreciate the new you. When you engage in a 20 minute conversation with someone and you get them to talk for 15 minutes, they are very likely to say how good you are. Inversely, if you engage with someone and you do all the talking, it will have detrimental effects "Damn, why wouldn't he let me speak". This is even better if you are more senior than the person you are speaking to. Understand this, the fact that YOU as a senior person has taken the time during his day to listen, but it helps alot.
The Unspoken Word
A skillful listener does not only take whas been said, he also takes what has not been said. Imagine that person who steers the subject of a conversation to what they want to say. Yes, I am guilty into doing this aswell, and it's fine because most people tend to go like this too. In my previous post, I talk about explicit and implicit specifications. An explicit specification is a source of requirements acknowledged by stakeholders in writing such as "Look at the ticket description" and "Have a read about the meeting notes". Oppositely, an implicit specification is a source of requirements that is not acknowledged by your stakeholders, but it makes sense for that to be correct. An example is when a developer has been given the task to add a item to a dropdown, it is implicit in the fact that it should have the same style as the others inside the list.
Another thing to spot an amazing listener is doing. Imagine a speaker that talks about all these amazing things but he does not practice what he preaches - would you believe him? I would not.
Nobody has ever learned from listening to themselves speak. Until you get out of there in the regular basis, you can not get a proper view on what is going on. Get an extra ears, get out there, take notes about what people will say to you - Richard Branson