The Perils of Poor Listening

sculpture-540563_640It’s been said that listening is the most important communication skill. The ability to speak effectively and deliver a clear message is obviously important, but if no one is listening then the act is meaningless. Listening is the one aspect of communication that best demonstrates trust, understanding, and respect. The impact of poor listening skills cannot be understated.

In a survey conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI) 35% of workers said their boss “never, or only sometimes, listens to their work-related concerns.” Obviously, this contributes to unhealthy manager/employee relationships. By not listening, the study shows that leaders withhold courtesy, honesty, and tact during interactions with their team members.

Business strategist Jocelyn Ring says the problem isn’t just with managers. Employees at all levels of the organization, and in every job role, suffer from poor listening skills. She lists the following 10 Costly Business Consequences of Not Listening:

  1. Meetings can run longer.
  2. It takes longer to communicate an idea.
  3. Next action steps are not clear; a week later you find out things were done incorrectly.
  4. It costs time.
  5. It costs money.
  6. You can lose a customer by not listening to them effectively.
  7. You spend extra time, money, and resources to win customers back.
  8. Not asking questions to clarify what was said means you miss opportunities to serve your customers and team members better.
  9. When the people on your team don’t feel understood, they are less invested in the team and its mission.
  10. People stop engaging, since what they say doesn’t matter.

I know from personal experience that each of these are indeed true. Poor listening skills have affected my own perceptions as both a customer and an employee. When representatives of an organization demonstrate an inability (or lack of desire) to listen effectively, my mood quickly shifts into annoyance or even anger. Not only does that one interaction cause me to take my business elsewhere, but the negative emotions remain for a significant period of time. I share the bad experience with others, impacting their impression of the company as well.

And think about the impact within the workplace. When managers have given me the impression that they aren’t really listening, it causes a series of negative consequences – a spiral of disengagement.

  • My trust in them is shaken. I no longer view them as an ally.
  • My self-confidence is lessened. I must not be worthy of their attention.
  • My commitment to that leader drops. I am less likely to do my best work for them.
  • My commitment to the organization drops. Why would I be loyal to an employer that doesn’t care about me?
  • My communication with peers takes a negative turn. I’ll share my experience and we’ll all commiserate about the horrible state of affairs here at work.
  • My selfish interests take precedence over helping others. If that’s the way things work around here, then I’ll just focus on taking care of #1.
  • My need for a healthy work environment fuels a desire for change. I’ll just start looking for another job.

All of these consequences are avoidable. In fact, the negatives associated with ineffective listening skills can become positives. Take a look at those same 10 consequences Ms. Ring notes. By simply becoming better listeners, we wind up with a list of 10 workplace enhancements:

  1. Meetings become shorter.
  2. It takes less time to communicate an idea.
  3. Next action steps are clear; a week later, you find everyone is on the same page.
  4. Time is saved.
  5. Money is saved.
  6. You secure a customer by making them feel valued and understood.
  7. You avoid the expense and effort to win back upset customers.
  8. Clarifying questions are asked, resulting in better service to employees and customers.
  9. Team members feel understood and invest in the team’s success.
  10. People engage, since they are heard and appreciated.

Best of all, the solution is free! All we have to do is listen effectively. There’s no expense involved, only reward. No activity carries the kind of potential that effective listening does. Invest in your team. Invest in your customers. Make the listening investment today.

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