Probably the most well established fact about why businesses fail is that the number one reason is: they don’t communicate! Invariably, they fail to communicate with customers as well as staff. The next result of this failure is lack of interest and lack of belief in the organization.
Communication itself is a broad term covering at least 4 distinctive modes: there is ‘systems communication’, ‘written communication’, ‘presentational skills communication’, and ‘personal communication’ (that is, one to one). Serious shortcomings in any one of these modes can induce business failure, and it would be invidious to suggest that one mode were more important than any other. That said, at root, I believe personal communication is primary.
For one thing personal communication is the essential mechanism that builds trust – all the systems, memos, and presentations in the world cannot reassure in the way that one person speaking to another can.
What is happening then in personal communication that is so significant? Well, it has two major components: speaking and listening. As managers we spend most of our time speaking and wanting to speak; however, we should reverse this: spend 80% of our time listening, and only 20% speaking. But this is a tall order. And why should we do it?
The truth is that listening not only builds profoundest levels of trust, listening also builds motivation. Enlightened management knows this, which is why it invests in managers attending listening skills courses. For some excellent information on developing listening skills, check out these sites:
But there is a problem when we treat listening purely as a skill. Sure, there are techniques that improve our listening capabilities – lean forward, pause before replying, ask open questions, paraphrase, use rapid repeat technique and so on. And that’s it: technique. People distrust other people who use techniques on them; in fact, nobody wants to be the victim of a technique, no matter how well meaning it is. For the technique not to appear to be a technique it has to be so deeply embedded that it becomes ‘natural’. Most managers – even highly able ones – haven’t the time or the patience to reach that level of embeddedness: they have projects to manage for goodness sake!
And yet the problem is not going to go away. People do not need, generally, a good talking to; they need a good listening to. Why is this, and how can it be done if we do not go down the technique route?
I think the key issue is to re-frame the level of importance we attach to listening per se. There is a lot of lip service paid to its importance, but that does not necessarily translate into action. And it doesn’t translate into action because the thoughts do not convert into desire – into a hunger to listen.
Let me share with you some of my thoughts about why listening is at the very core of what it means to be human. I ask myself this question: in what states of being are we most intensely ourselves? And I think the answer is twofold: we are looking to become most ourselves when we either meditate or pray. But what are we actually doing in those two (altered) states?
When we meditate we are actually tuning in – listening – to the universe, the Spirit, the God, the One, and we are trying to discern what its Will is for us. Even if we don’t believe in the One, and we meditate, we are still trying to listen to our own souls whispering their messages to us – messages which are normally drowned out by all the monkey-chatter of our rational minds.
And when we pray – as nearly everybody has done at some point in their lives to greater or lesser effect – what are we doing? We are asking the One to answer or respond to our prayer. At the same time there is always the belief that the One is in fact listening. When prayers are not apparently answered, many still derive benefit from their knowledge, their belief, that the One is listening. Take away the ear of the Universe and mankind’s life can seem very pointless indeed.
So what I am saying here is that listening is the activity that is virtually synonymous with loving – why would the One listen if it were not in love? Why would we listen to ourselves (if we do not believe in God) if it were not to love ourselves in the very act of seeking our deeper responses? This is why meditation is such a powerful antidote to low self-esteem.
Next time, then, we encounter some difficulty at work or home – and difficulty means difficult person! – let us ask ourselves: am I really listening to that person? If I am not, then the chances of effecting any real change are marginal. Listening has the motivational power that most techniques do not.