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Defining Moments in Conversations

Every once in awhile we come across a comment that really makes us consider how we deal with certain situations. Recently I had completed several workshops on conflict resolution skills when I saw a statement in an article on the topic that "turned on new lights" for me: "the defining moment in the midst of conflict is when one person decides to intently and patiently listen and suspends all judgment".

While easier said than done for most of us, think about how that one act could not only create positive outcomes but strengthen relationships. Imagine how it could shift our focus from making sure I am heard to let me make sure I understand you. As Steven Covey said long ago, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." What better way to do that than to listen intently without judging?

In my workshops I emphasize how listening is a conscious act requiring hard work and patience. Talking is much more instinctive and natural for many of us. Long ago one of my coaches encouraged the use of the 80/20 mix when in a conversation that required openness, a willingness to consider differing views or the resolution of conflict. "Work at spending 80% of your time listening and paying attention to the non-verbal aspects of the conversation and 20% determined to get your point across." I remember jokingly saying, "Come to think of it I can't remember the last time I fought over whose turn it was to listen."

Two other situations in which the 80/20 approach and listening without judgment is one managers are often involved in: the candidate interview and the performance review.

When I was directing Human Resources there were many occasions when the hiring manager and I were comparing notes from an interview and I would have pages of notes to share. Most of the time, the hiring manager would ask how I had taken so many notes and gained so much information about the candidate. When we talked about the ratio of time spent talking versus listening, almost without exception our 80/20 distributions were the exact opposite.

In the performance review it is essential for the manager to clearly and candidly provide fact based feedback but it is equally important to listen to the employee's view of things and facilitate personal reflection of their strengths and development areas, career goals and how they become even more effective. Listening with patience and without judgment creates that environment.

I also believe that listening is a sign of respect. It demonstrates that you value the other person and want to know what they think and how they feel. It says that the conversation is not about controlling the "air time" but creating a mutual understanding of each other and the issues being discussed. Listening effectively also enables people to experience the benefits of listening and being listened to which makes them more willing to "pay it forward" when they have conversations with others.

Think about this: how many times do you hear people complimented for their communication skills, ability to sell their ideas, give presentations, etc. compared to the number of times you hear praise for being a good listener? It isn't because listening isn't an important skill, it's because we place more emphasis on talking.