Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 4: active listening

This is my fourth installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for Parts 1-3.)

And up to here I have primarily focused on thinking through and crafting an effective message and conveying it, primarily face to face and verbally. I turn here to consider the flip side to effective communications and listening, as any effective communications process needs to be two-way. So my goal here is to discuss what I refer to as active listening.

• Most of us know the basic distinction between hearing, as sound entering our ears and our realizing that, and listening – being consciously aware of what we are hearing and with our being attentive to it.
• Active listening is listening in which you actively seek to make sense of what you are hearing and is a listening process in which you actively analyze and evaluate it for meaning and nuance, and for how it does or does not connect with what you already know. This is listening with your full and undivided attention, setting aside the multitasking to more fully connect and engage.

If you would like to get a poor work performance evaluation, go to a meeting with your boss and when they are talking pull out your smartphone to check your email. Multitasking in principle means doing more than one distinctly separate task at a time, and in practice it usually means doing them all poorly. And when you multitask like this team member with their smartphone, as suggested here, that conveys a message that you do not see any of the particular tasks you are taking on as being particularly important or engrossing – including listening to something that your boss probably considers important enough to interrupt their schedule to share it with you. I see this particular type of multitasking a lot when people get together in conference rooms and some are there and actively participating and some are seemingly only occupying chairs and absent in fact.

• Cultivate active listening, and both for capturing what others are telling you and for more fully and immediately understanding the unspoken assumptions that they might be making in what they say too.
• And cultivate active listening so you can more fully come to know your own assumptions too, and both so messages shared with you can bring you more value and so you in turn can follow through more effectively too.
• Active listening is like assembling an information puzzle, and it gives you a firmer grasp of the puzzle pieces so you can turn back to them again later too, when they might be important to have.

If you want to use your smartphone or tablet computer to take notes and there might be confusion as to what you are doing, ask if it is alright for you to do so. Then actually take notes – don’t just use that request as a cover for checking your personal email or your Facebook wall for messages.

I am going to switch directions in my next series installment to consider written communications with their complexities, and then I will delve into some of the issues of cultural differences and how they can skew effective communications and regardless of communications channel used. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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