Monday, April 2, 2012

Learn how to listen so that others can do the same

Posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 by International Coach Federation

"Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery." Dr. Joyce Brothers

There is a big difference between being heard and being listened to. In any organization, it is fundamental that any decision or plan that is communicated, to be efficiently applied on time. However, my practical experience in business shows that all this can only be achieved with one cost, a cost that fewer and fewer managers are willing to pay for. Working with Alex as a coach, has given me the chance to observe the impact of turning a work environment into a complete “business machine.”

He was a manager whose decisions and actions were exclusively based on lists: of the tasks that must be fulfilled, of deadlines, programs etc. Almost every employee had a stash of papers on the desk with every task that must be finished by the end of the day. Usually, tasks were fulfilled and everyone always had something to do, leaving little time for communication or other explanations. The business was running like a machine. Sometimes, employees had to work twice as much, making them think only about ways of diminishing that stash of papers, without encouraging them to be creative or to bring new ideas…At one point however, this mechanism started to fall apart, as people became used with the work at the office, but with a pointless job as well. Always worrying about the work that they had to do left little time to focus on efficiency or bringing new clients. Nobody was stressed because there was no such thing as a priority; everyone always received an email or a list with all the things that they had to do, but without having a global view of the situation.

The business continued with this working system until Alex asked his key employees, as always, to finish a set of documents for the next day. But the deadline was not respected because everyone still had to finish the work that was left from the previous days when they couldn’t finish every task. But Alex became aware of the situation the next day, when he was supposed to use the required documents for an important press release. It was then when Alex realized that he was not being listened by his people.

There is, indeed, a big difference between being heard and being listened, but most people are too busy to notice it. In any successful business, every decision, action or even minute counts. Many managers believe that there is not enough time to reflect on what should be improved and waste important resources on making other people act on time. It’s easier to be heard, to teach people how to react mechanically, without showing them the big picture, but on a long term, this system will undoubtedly fail, making people lose their potential or the possibility to build performance. An easy, but inefficient way to run a business, is also the one in which you witness peoples’ regress, who prove that they don’t listen, and do nothing about it because you think “that’s just the way they are”. But without action, they will be like that for a long time.

In short, how can you put your soul into logic? How can you afford to invest in feedback or in follow-up sessions where you check what has been done and what not? How can you show your employees what the company objectives are?

The biggest difference between being heard and being listened to is that in the former situation, people act from a mechanical reflex and  are not responsible for the results -  in the latter, they act because they understand certain processes and are able to make connections.
Rodica Obancea, ACC
Listening is an active process which creates the environment for development and new ideas.

So before you invest in convincing your clients to listen and buy, make sure that you convinced your team to listen and act, and in order to achieve this, you must face the situation, and see if you are being heard or…listened to!

Rodica Obancea, ACC, is passionate about change, emergence, living systems. She works within business environment, with managers, teams for achieving ambitious results. For more information, visit

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