Are you really listening?

If you were to listen back to a recording of a conversation that you had with a colleague, would you be completely sure about what you heard, and what you had said?

This came up as a topic in the twelth episode of StartUp, a podcast that I’ve been hooked on over the last couple of weeks. StartUp, which first aired in August 2014, documents the story of Alex Blumberg, as he launches his new podcast company (yes, a podcast about launching a podcast company). He’s running a business for the first time and we get a unique, behind-the-scenes insight into his journey of raising investment, naming his company, getting a partner, hiring staff and also the impact it has on his family life. It’s candid, insightful and well worth a listen right from Episode 1.

The topic of the twelth episode is ‘Burnout’. In it, Alex listens back to a recording of a conversation he had with one of his team – something that would be a rare opportunity for the rest of us. What he discovers is quite painful, but revealing. Alex wasn’t listening at all to what PJ, his team member, was saying about workload concerns and the pressure he and his colleagues are under. Alex realises he was more concerned with getting his own point across. He’s even more surprised that he can’t remember a specific point he made, which his team understood as the key takeaway from the conversation – a major decision about hiring more people which would have a big impact on their working lives.

On reflection, Alex realises that this particular point could only be understood in context with other conversations he’s had, and the decisions he’s previously made – which his team didn’t know anything about. This information is all in Alex’s head, and although he hears what PJ says he fails to really listen and understand. He also doesn’t consider the impact of his flippant response to PJ. How many times have you thought you were being crystal clear when speaking to someone, but realise later that they interpreted it as something completely different?

We don’t all have the privilege of recording and listening back to our conversations (perhaps that’s a good thing, it could be excruciating!), but we could all take lessons from Alex’s experience:

  • Hearing what someone says is very different to truly listening to them, with empathy
  • When you say something, despite the message being completely clear to you, are you really sure the other person has understood?
  • The value of regular, open and effective communication within a team

All pretty challenging to do when you’re already stretched and limited for time, but things that could have a huge positive impact on working relationships.

Image credit: runran on Flickr

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