Leadership Communication Lesson 1: Listening is Not a Skill, It’s a Decision

(The next 2 weeks I’m traveling around western europe on holiday. I’ll be posting pictures from my trip on my Facebook page, if you’d like to follow my unique journey driving through Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to see 6 rock and roll concerts with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. I’ll also be writing about the trip some here as well but the whole trip will be documented on Facebook as soon as I can find time at a wifi-hot spot on the road. In preparation for my time away, I’ve written a number of blog posts that have been scheduled to go out in advance, here’s the first one).



At the beginning of my seminars, workshops and keynote speeches on the topic of The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication, I always ask my audiences what, in their experience, are the biggest roadblocks, challenges and frustrations with communication in their world.

Invariably “listening” (meaning the lack of) comes to the fore in virtually every talk I give.

Well, its been about 14 months since April 2011 when I published my most popular white paper report, The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication, and since then over 3000 people have downloaded that report and “not listening” is not in among the seven.

Now, I don’t challenge those who offer “listening” as a challenge in their world as to whether they are frustrated that others don’t listen to them when they try to communicate, or if they are admitting that they often don’t listen as attentively as they should to others. Maybe I should.

I still find it Interesting, myself that “listening” did not make my top seven deadliest of all communication mistakes.

I didn’t realize why until very recently.

I believe there are 3 reasons for this:

  1. It’s too easy to throw “not listening” out, its just a platitude:
    • Additionally, I’ve found when when people bring up the subject of ‘not listening, it’s often focused on blaming others for a failure to listen and little insights into the sins of the communicator.
  2. I originally viewed listening as a subset of Communication Sin #6 – Lack of Focused Attention, which has more to do with multi-tasking when communicating with another, but it doesn’t directly relate to listening:
    • It does, however, relate to the person being communicated with and their decision to give the other person focused attention.
  3. Listening is Not a Skill, It’s a Decision:
    • We are born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. Most of us have heard that since we were in kindergarten.
    • I, personally, do not believe we need a whole lot of lessons in listening, we just need to make a decision that the other person is important enough that they deserve to be listened to.

So, listening is a choice. Listening is a choice we make every minute of every day. It’s your choice.

More on this topic to come later this week!

For now, though, let me know what you think, leave a comment below.

’til next time, make it a great week,

10 thoughts on “Leadership Communication Lesson 1: Listening is Not a Skill, It’s a Decision

  1. Randa Speller says:

    I kind of agree with your observations. “Not listening” has several components, the first of which is willingness to hear what the other person is saying. Then there’s the abililty to retain what you’ve heard without re-writing it, followed by understanding. When we’re in agreement with what we’re hearing, we have internal flagposts of sorts, to which we can connect the thought. When it’s new information, or coming from someone with either a very different communication style from ours, or whom we haven’t yet built a rapport, it’s more difficult to stay engaged. I find myself at times struggling to comprehend, relate to, and understand this type of person, so use facilitation techniques to confirm that what I’ve heard matches what they’ve said, and that I understand them. Takes a little longer, but is worth it.

  2. Arlie says:

    Skip,

    You mentioned something very fundamental, ” that the other person is important enough that they deserve to be listened to”. Often time it is about that. I have experiences instances where I would give an advise to someone only for that person to come back to me, state that same advise, and dare claim to have gotten that advise from someone other than me. The attitude that someone is not important enough to be listened to is common with dictator-style leadership, which can be found almost anywhere.

  3. Dr. Ilani says:

    Point well taken. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Listening is both a choice and a skill.

    There are those who listen only to the literal level of the communication, those who listen to what the person is really saying… and other levels of abstraction that could exist in each communication.

    There is no question in my mind that listening is a choice. But, it is certainly also a skill.

    I liked the point you make that the speaker has a responsibility to the level of “listening” among their audience. At times, speakers drift in their conversation way off topic, or use the conversation to expressing other agendas such as hostility, blaming, nagging, putting people “in their place” etc. under the pretext of “just making a conversation”. ‘Noot listening” could be a defensive posture.

  4. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Excellent additions to this discussions. Randa, thank you for adding value here!
    Skip

  5. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Absolutely! Thank you for making these important points. Are you familiar with my “GOldilocks ‘Just Right’ Leadership Style” program? It talks about the 3 leadership styles I’ve found in my client work and the only one that gets the results people want, the way they want them. One of which is what you describe as dictator-like, which I call “Command and Control.” You can learn more and get access to a free webinar at http://www.GoldilocksLeadership.com .

    Thanks for stopping by and being inspired to leave a comment.

  6. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Dr. Ilani,
    Thank you for adding value here. I appreciate and agree with your contribution. I absolutely agree that Listening is both a skill and a choice. The reason I wrote this article this way, is that too often we default to the belief we need to practice listening skills, when in reality its just a choice to be in the moment with people and to want to hear what they have to say. Which the latter, for some reason, always seems to be more difficult. And, I have to admit depending on the situation, I’m as big a violator of this as anyone, and at least I’m aware of it and practice being in the moment with the people I’m interacting with.

  7. Holly Brubaker says:

    Skip,

    Great that you pointed that out….it really is a DECISION to listen. At work or at home, it’s easy to be “too busy” or distracted, or have too many of our own thoughts, to really make a decision to still the mind and LISTEN to the other person.

  8. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Holly,
    Thanks for stopping by and being inspired to leave a comment. I’m pleased you agree with my concept here and the reminder for us to stay in the moment with people when we are communicating so that we can make them feel valued and get the most out of the conversation.
    Skip

  9. Yuvarajah says:

    Wonderful thoughts.

    Yes, to listen is a decision. But, making a desision requires courage, humility, patience, synthesis and other “for being in the moment” qualities. Hence, to reach that level of “deciding to listen” requires lot’s of knowledge and skills building.

    Sometimes, we vary our listening to suit a situation or person. For example, when we are running shoart of time or when we face someone who is presumptous. And so, we vary the decision to use different set of listening skills to shape the conversation.

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