Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Did You Say?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

The Art of Listening:

Most people like to talk more than they like to listen.  They like to hear what they have to say about something, but not always what someone else has to say.  And even when they are focused on listening, they often don't really hear or understand what the other person has said.

Clearly one of the most useful of business skills is the ability to really listen; to hear what is being said and, most importantly, to be able to process what one hears and relate that information to a given situation.  I'm not talking about remembering what someone said, but rather understanding what they were actually saying - the meaning of their words, particularly in the realistic application of the meaning to one's circumstances.

I suspect very few people are really any good at that.  Like the Paul Simon line: "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest", I think what most of us do is project onto what someone else says, what we want to hear.  The net impact of that is a high degree of misinterpretation - and that can cause  serious problems in business because it lulls us into thinking a scenario will play out that very likely will not.  And that in turn wastes time - the one precious commodity which is perpetually in short supply and which none of us can afford to squander.

One of the hardest things for people to hear is rejection, or any kind of 'no' response.

In many cases we so want a "yes" answer to something that we hear that 'yes' answer, when the reality is that the answer is "no".  It's almost as though there is a business mindset version of Aspererger's syndrome where we just aren't able to pick up on the cues being given.  If we hear an unequivocal answer, we are able to accept it, but the problem is, of course, that often times we get answers that are vague; answers that are not really answers at all.  Many people have trouble saying 'no', so they really try to convey 'no' without saying it.  And many more of us are all too willing to conclude that they aren't saying 'no' - in large part because we don't want to hear a 'no' answer to something.  Sometimes any response other than an unequivocal 'yes' is, in fact, a 'no'.  Not always of course,  but more than we would like to think.  Just think about seeking some target donor and the time spent with the person / organization that ultimately does not come through.  Perhaps the writing was on the wall and we just didn't want to acknowledge it.

The reason this is important is because time is so precious, and failure to appreciate that the answer to something is 'no' steals that time away; time we might pursue in some different way, in some different forum, to get the 'yes' answer we need.  

How do you tell the difference then between what might be a 'yes', but ultimately will turn out to be a 'no'?  And at what point do you conclude that it simply isn't worth pursuing the hoped for 'yes' response anymore?  I don't know.  All situations are unique and the circumstances of each different.  I think it has to do with honing our listening skills so that we become more experienced and successful at reading the cues which might tell us which way the wind will blow in any given situation.  I'm not sure, but I would guess that there might be some training that could help us in that capacity.  I would love to see professional development opportunities for our sector expand to include such things as building 'listening' skills (as well as a host of other skill sets we never do anything to help develop in our people - from time management and organization to how to motivate people) - but we do none of that.

Meanwhile, it might be useful for each of us to think about how we might improve our listening skills, our capacity to read cues from people, and our ability to recognize a 'no' answer as early on as possible.  I suppose we can start that process by doing a little self-analysis as to the recent past and trying to zero in on when we might have misread cues.  Anything we can do to preserve the limited time we have to make things work is of value to us and there is little we do that wastes more of our time than the pursuit of a 'no' response to something.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit