jump to navigation

Listening and Waiting January 9, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: , ,

I recently overheard an exceptionally useful observation: “Some people listen.  Other people just wait to talk.”

Waiting to talk is easy.  While the other person rambles on, you can politely gather your thoughts and prepare your next statement.  When the noise level drops off for a moment, you can jump and and take your turn, sharing your very important thoughts and views.  At that point, the other person begins listening, of course, and you can hold the floor until you run our of ideas or breath.

Listening is hard.  To begin with, you have to pay attention.  You have to absorb what is being said and think about the ideas being presented.  There may not be enough time to come up with a response right away, and you may have to think and work a bit before you know what to say.  Some silence might occur as a result, which can be awkward.

The effort of listening is rewarded with valuable conversations.  Ideally, you’ll actually share ideas with someone else, and you might occasionally learn something. Everyone wins when people truly listen, even if you cannot agree on the topic at hand.

As leaders, communication is perhaps our most important tool.  It is easy to view communication as a stream of information from us to our teams: coaching, advising, cajoling, and directing.  But don’t forget: as soon as we stop listening, as soon as we start just waiting to talk, we lose a crucial connection with our people.  Listening builds respect and trust, something that can never happen if you are just waiting to talk.  And without respect and trust, true leadership can never occur.

So, what do you think?  I’m listening…


1. Gordon Blackwell - January 9, 2009

Chuck, you’re discussing a topic that resonates consistently in my heart. Active listening demands efforts that most people do not exert. But Active Listening remains vital to a person’s success throughout life.

Why is listening vital to a successful life??? Because relationships, whether personal or professional, is dependent on being able to add value to one another. If I provide absolutely no value to you, then we really do not have a relationship (or our relationship will dissipate in the near future). While it is possible to provide value to another without purposeful intent, you more likely succeed at delivering value when you target a person’s need and reach out to meet that need …And how does one learn what another person needs???
….By Listening!

I learned my lesson when I was a systems manager at GE Capital. One of the departments I supervised provided due diligence services of mortgages to verify compliance. We shipped people to client sites all across the nation (costing millions of dollars annually). I was designing an initiative that would enable underwriters to review loans from our Raleigh-based office. Leveraging the right technologies, documents scanned by a few individuals in California, could be review by dozens of underwriters the next day in Raleigh. I was in the process of evaluating various scanning devises that would enable rapid capture of thousands of documents per day. One salesperson approached me with the ‘perfect solution’. Following his declaration, I scheduled a meeting that included several key executives. The sales agent presented a multi-purpose fax machine –an entirely inappropriate recommendation that embarrassed everyone in the room (especially me).

The obvious non-listener was the salesperson –he heard absolutely nothing regarding the purpose of the project. However, I learned my lesson not from the sales rep …But from ME. I did not listen to his concept. I heard ‘perfect solution’ and began scheduling meetings. I should have listened to him actively before scheduling any meetings.

That single event triggered me to take communication classes whenever offered. Every class expressed the importance of listening more than any other communication. When I discuss the topic with others, everyone unites declaring that listening is important. However, I am fascinated with the lack of importance that our society places on this discipline. Think about your schooling… Reading and Writing are drilled into all students virtually every year. Some students experience a Speaking class in high school or college. But, I’ve never seen a class in our schools or universities that teaches people to listen. Aren’t we missing something?!?

2. Susan Mazza - February 25, 2009

Hi Chuck,

You are so right on (and yes we certainly are touching on some of the same core points here so thanks for the link to your post). We spend a lot of time in which we could actually be paying attention to what the other person is saying by instead “waiting to speak”. The rewards of listening are immense. Yet I don’t think we are really awake enough to the costs of not listening.

I spent 14 years working in many different facets of systems design, development & implementation and it never ceased to amaze me how poor the communication was between developers and end users. There were so many examples of the costs of not listening. There were a lot of conversations, meetings and e-mails, but not a whole lot of effective communication. It led to difficult implementations with people not feeling understood and/or appreciated. It resulted in “this is what I asked for but not what I want” and “users are losers” kind of attitudes that just perpetuated the lack of listening. Been out of that field for 14 years now and wondering how much things have changed. Would be curious about your take on that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: