LENDING AN EAR

A listening ear

The difference between hearing and listening

In Summary

•There is a distinct difference between being able to hear and being able to listen

•To know whether your team has listened to you, politely ask one of them to tell you what they just heard

How many times have you heard a failed action attributed to ‘communications breakdown’? It’s cited very often in customer relationships where the complainant believes something promised was not delivered and the apologist cannot or will not account for the reason.

It happens even more frequently within organisations when colleagues let one another down or employees have not received instructions clearly. In fact it happens hundreds of thousands of times a day, in every kind of business. In my experience of helping companies to get things done, it ranks second only to fear as the greatest obstacle to productivity within a company culture.

But in a world where human beings talk to one another almost every waking moment how does this happen? How do people who have been to the same all-staff briefing come away with different take outs … or no take outs at all?

The answer is very simple and can easily be demonstrated in the following festive homily.During the upcoming Christmas holiday families will indulge themselves. Generations will meet and mix over rich food, interspersed with tasty treats. At some point, someone with good sense will ordain: “No more sweeties until after dinner.” And just watch what the children do then: most will grab one more treat. They will have heard the instruction, but not really listened. The temptation of the creamy chocolate was just too much.

There is a distinct difference between being able to hear and being able to listen. Sometimes it has to do with whether or not we want to listen and follow directions, other times we may not be in a ‘space’ that is conducive to listening. We’re thinking about other stuff.

Hearing is a passive process wherein the ear is able to hear incoming sounds at a normal threshold. When a sound enters the ear, it is considered hearing. But just because a sound has entered the ear does not mean that it was understood.

Listening, on the other hand, is an active process. An individual has to be able to focus on the sound entering the ear while tuning out distractions.

Ideal listening occurs when the ear is able to filter out lower frequencies and background sounds while tuning in to the higher frequencies associated with the nuances of language.

Many managers who doubt they have their employees’ full attention tend to repeat themselves in the hope that the message will sink it. All this does is create confusion, boredom and resentment. If you really want to know whether your team has listened to you, politely ask one of them to tell you what they just heard. 

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside

 www.thebrandinsideafrica.com