You may consider yourself a good listener – but are you a strategic listener? I had the pleasure of meeting Kittie Watson, Ph.D., at the 2016 WBENC National Conference & Business Fair last month. She is the founder and president of Innolect, Inc., an executive and leadership development firm based in South Carolina. At WBENC, she presented an interactive workshop called Strategic Listening: Keys to Building Long-Term Partnerships. Intrigued by her expertise, I picked her brain on the nuances of listening, and how to develop more effective listening habits.
Q: Why is listening so important?
A: Research shows that most people spend at least 60% of their daily communication time listening, while the other 40% is divided among speaking, reading, and writing. It’s one of the most powerful tools we can use to encourage and empower coworkers.
Q: What is the biggest obstacle to listening effectively?
A: Our inner voices are our loudest distractions. The conversations going on in our own heads often interfere with incoming information as we think of a response or disagree with a concept. Similarly, the inner voices of people we communicate with may keep them from remembering information and allowing new ideas to be accepted if a message is inconsistent with past experiences or values.
Q: Do listeners need to adapt to different settings and environments?
A: Yes! Many of us have gotten into the habit of listening the same way in all listening situations. Doing so often leads to the loss of valuable information. If we consciously thought about changing the way we listen depending on the setting or environment, we could listen more effectively. Today, business meetings occur virtually through telephone and video conferences. These interactions require us to listen with greater focus and discipline.
Q: How might a workplace setting affect listening?
A: Business settings often reinforce action-oriented over people-oriented listening styles. Action-oriented listeners prefer to get to the point quickly, receive information in outline form, and hear concise comments. On the other hand, people-oriented listeners strive for good interpersonal relationships, notice nonverbal cues, and show concern for others while completing tasks. Successful listeners pick up on cues from others, and match and adapt their messages to their preferences.
Q: What ways can we identify the listening preferences of others?
A: Try observing your colleagues in various situations such as meetings and one-on-one conversations. Notice how they organize information, whether or not they use examples, and how quickly they speak. You can also visit their desks to make note of calendars, to-do lists, family pictures, or personal items that are visible. By gathering information, you can make a better guess about how you might adapt to their listening preferences. You’re more likely to identify ways to understand and adapt to the communication needs of others if you pay attention to personal and environmental cues. If you want to find out your personal listening preference, check out our Listener Preference Profile – it’s a simple test that provides you with immediate feedback.
How can you use Kittie’s tips for strategic listening in your next conversation?