Conversation and Listening: The Inseparable Pair

By Mary Verstraete

To be effective, leaders must first win the hearts and minds of those they lead.

Have you ever had the embarrassing experience of someone asking you a question during a conversation when you were pretending to listen? You had no idea what the question was, and you responded with a blank stare when the person waited for your response. The sounds of the words may enter your ears, but that does not mean that your brain interprets them; nor does it mean that your mind stores the message.

Listening is one of the most important communication skills that we can acquire because it’s the primary way that we develop relationships, understand others and learn important, often vital, information. What happens in the workplace when listening breaks down? Employees don’t feel valued, they believe that their voice hasn’t been heard, and their contribution is not appreciated. Consequences follow:

  • Disgruntled employees
  • Strained relationships
  • Decaying moral
  • Trust erodes

A good leader has the ability not only to listen and comprehend what has been said, but to also make people feel heard through empathetic and authentic dialogue. This is not always the easiest thing to do, especially when working under pressure with multiple priorities. If leaders don’t accomplish these things, statistics like this are often the result:

Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work, so we can assume they have a great boss. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million (20%) employees who are actively disengaged. These employees, who have bosses that make them miserable, roam the halls spreading discontent. The other 50 million (50%) American workers are not engaged. They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers. State of the American Workplace Report, 2013.

In the 2017 Report, these same struggles continue in varying degrees.

One step to higher employee engagement is trustworthy dialogue:

  1. Become knowledgeable on the nature and structure of a conversation that will equip you to connect with your team and employees skillfully and effectively.
  2. Recognize that effective communication is a skill and art. Example: We don’t one day decide to become an expert listener. Skillful listening requires training of our minds to listen attentively at a logical, emotional, and organic level.
  3. Commit and make time in your schedule to be trained in becoming skilled in listening and in conversation.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  –George Bernard Shaw