Our workplaces are made of diverse individuals with varying strengths and weaknesses. The ability to actively listen – to clients and managers, teams and partners – is a crucial soft skill at the workplace. But unfortunately, it is not a ubiquitous one.
We have all had that one teammate who will interrupt and speak out of turn, look distracted during important briefings, or is constantly just waiting for their turn to talk. The negative effect is almost always the same – misunderstandings and errors, delivery deviating from the brief, and many other inefficiencies.
Active listening is a behavioural trait that your teammate needs to work on. But till that happens, work must still go on. What can you – as a manager or a teammate – do to ensure that your crucial messages do not get lost in translation to the point of affecting quality and timelines negatively?
Introspect a little
It will hold you in good stead to find out if the individual is a bad listener with everyone or just you. If it is the latter, you might want to find out why. Sometimes, we don’t realize when we disrespect our teammate’s time by saying more than necessary or not being articulate and succinct enough. It is no wonder that the audience’s focus and attention drifts after a few minutes.
It is crucial that you use your colleagues’ time efficiently. If that means having to limit verbal briefs and engaging more in written ones, there is no reason not to practice it.
Don’t just talk. Interact
It is easy to lose focus in a long, one-sided sermon. Try engaging your colleague in a two-way dialogue. Actively listen to his/her inputs. Ask questions. When the conversation becomes interactive, listeners are on cue to respond and engage. It is the best way to get them to listen to the conversation.
Reinforce your key message more than once
Context setting is important when engaging bad listeners. It helps engage them in the conversation from the get-go. But that is not the end of it. Especially for crucial or time-sensitive projects, be sure to reinforce your message more than once. Conclude with the highlights of the conversation and the next steps for all parties so that the most important elements of the conversation resonate well with listeners, especially the bad ones.
Document, document, document
Documenting meetings and action items is crucial for most work-related conversations. It becomes even more crucial with subpar listeners. An email makes things transparent and gives a point of reference for people to move on to their ends of the deal. A written conclusion also makes all involved parties accountable, since there is now a documented reference should anyone deviate from the agreement, plan, brief, or instructions.
As a manager, it is often important to understand your individual teammates’ unique work styles. Respecting individual traits and still meeting deliverables and deadlines in the best manner is the hallmark of good project management. After all, you are dealing with human beings, not work robots. But even after your efforts, if your colleague’s lack of listening skill continues to adversely affect deadlines and deliverables, it might be time for an honest, forthright feedback session. Make it happen before things get out of hand.