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Slow to Speak and Quick to Listen

By Jan McGuire


As a manager, an employee, or even just as an adult, when is the last time you were slow to speak and quick to listen? And by listening, I mean REALLY listening? Chances are high it's been longer than you would care to admit. Let's face it, the workplace rewards people who speak up quickly to share their opinions. Social media trains us both to seek and to give approval - or disapproval - in an instant. The convenience of online shopping and same-day delivery has fed our craving for instant gratification. Gone are the days of delayed gratification - does anyone remember going through a catalog weeks and months ahead of the holidays circling the items you hoped Santa might bring?

Your perception of what you see and hear forms your reality. But is it truly reality? Or are you jumping to conclusions based on implicit bias, impatience, or your own defense mechanisms? It’s time to slow down and really listen to one another, particularly in our professional lives.

Active listening is one of the simplest ways to show respect to one another. Allowing others to voice their ideas in the workplace can encourage and empower new team members and build camaraderie. Managers, when was the last time you asked your team for ideas…but did so without interrupting or shutting down those that didn't mirror your own? Colleagues, when is the last time you asked a question of a teammate and really heard their response?

Dr. Stephen R. Covey might have said it best: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” My friend and colleague Angie Joens noted in a recent blog that her father often reminded her she had two ears and one mouth. We would all benefit from investing a few extra minutes in really listening to one another. One of the best ways to enact positive change at your organization is to gain an understanding of those around you. And you can't do that if you're always the one talking. While you may never know what it's like to walk in another's shoes, you can certainly be empathetic once you've learned more about their path.

Unfortunately, conflicts and disagreements aren't going away anytime soon in our imperfect world, but imagine how different things could be if we were slow to speak and quick to listen. Perhaps if we listened more intently, we’d be a little less offended when someone disagrees with us. And perhaps we would realize there is always something to be learned even from disagreements.

Our “listening comprehension” skills are measured in standardized tests throughout our K-12 education. The measure was often "satisfactory" or "at or above the national average." If given to us as adults, I wonder how many of us would receive a passing grade. It’s time to raise the bar and strive for an A+ in listening, especially at work.

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