The Top 5 Listening Mistakes (What to Do Instead)

Listening - 2 Men ask question

It’s a proven fact:  listening is more than just the physical act of hearing.  So why do we sometimes “zone out” during conversations?  Even though we may be able to hear what is being said, it’s only through aggressive listening that we can really understand what is being said — on both denotative (definitions) and connotative (emotional) levels.

Listening requires concentrated effort.  It requires silencing our “monkey minds” that constantly flit between different visual, auditory, and sensory stimulation.  It requires being present in the moment — and quit worrying about the past or the future.

Maybe it’s our fast-paced world or maybe it’s these constant distractions that pummel us from every direction, but the art of listening has fallen to the wayside.

But without aggressive listening, mistakes are made.  Feelings are hurt.  Important information is overlooked.  And the levels of trust and respect between the communicating partners can be forever damaged.

So, how do you learn how to become an aggressive listener?

To start, here are what I consider to be the Top 5 irritating listening habits — plus some tips on how to overcome them.

  • Irritating Listening Habit #1 Interrupting the speaker.  No one likes to be interrupted!  Interruptions are often interpreted as signs that you are belittling the importance of what the speaker is saying.  Even though you might think that you know what the person is going to say next, take a breath and wait for them to pause before interjecting your thoughts.  And consider asking a question instead of judging what they have been saying!
  • Irritating Listening Habit #2:  Showing interest in something else.  This is a sure sign to the speaker that you aren’t interested in the conversation.  While some unexpected distractions can divert your attention (such as an alarm bell going off), showing interest in something other than the speaker is disrespectful.  Instead focus on understanding the nuances of what the speaker is saying:  how do they really feel about what they are saying?  Are they happy, sad, excited, fearful?  By understanding the emotions underlying their words (the connotative meaning), you can get much more insight into the true meaning and importance of what they are saying.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #3:  Saying “yeah, but…”  While it is not expected that you will necessarily agree with everything that the speaker is saying, responding (or interrupting) with “yeah, but…” indicates that you made your mind up about the topic — probably before you even listened to the speaker.  In other words, your role in the two-way conversation was focused on crafting your own response rather than trying to understand the speaker’s position.  Instead try agreeing (the “yeah” in the “yeah, but”) then following with a separate question focused on gaining clarification.  The key is to come from a place of interest, rather than confrontation or judgment.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #4:  Not responding to the speaker’s requests.  In other words, responding with a “huh” instead of a direct reply.  While it’s true that fatigue can compromise our ability to aggressively listen, most of the time it’s that the listener was not paying attention by focusing on something outside the conversation.  This lack of response can also happen when a speaker stops talking…but the listener doesn’t contribute to the continuation of the conversation.  It’s those awkward pauses.  If you find your mind drifting away from the conversation, try taking a break or adding some type of physical activity (not fidgeting!).  A brief coffee break or suggesting that you take a walk while you’re talking can often bring your focus back to the conversation.
  • Irritating Listening Habit #5:  Not looking at the speaker.  Although hearing might only require functioning ears, aggressive listening requires both auditory and visual cues.  Mehrabian’s 55-38-7 rule advises that 55% of the meaning that we receive during communication is the result of body language (visual cues), 38% from the tone of voice (auditory cues), and only 7% from the actual words spoken.  Be sure to observe the speaker’s movements and body language in order to fully comprehend what they are trying to communicate — don’t just rely on your ears for understanding!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

 

Workplace Compassion: What It Is, Why It’s Missing, and How It Contributes to Organizational Success

Compassion - Giving a hand up to another

Should we expect to find compassion in our workplaces – or should we check our emotions at the door in order to be more productive at work?   Is workplace compassion a “nice to have” bonus at work – or is it an organizational imperative for innovation and profitability?  According to recent research, compassion may be the key to innovation, learning, and adaptability in a constantly changing world.

Compassion:  What It Is (and Isn’t)

Compassion is defined as not only our caring response to another person’s suffering, but also to our attempts to help alleviate that suffering.  It is a hard-wired trait in humans – but one that many people feel is lacking in not only our personal relationships, but at work as well.

Workplace compassion is found in the interactions between employees.  It’s displayed in our willingness to help one another.  To understand that there might be reasons for a sudden change in performance.  To recognize that employees are human beings with lives outside of work.

In other words, compassion – whether it is in our personal or professional lives – is the resulting emotion of being conscious of another’s suffering or distress AND being willing to help them alleviate it.

Compassion is, therefore, not just a feeling but also an action.

And, according to many researchers, compassion can be learned.

Why Compassion Is Missing in Most Workplaces

In general, there are three causes that deter compassion in the workplace:

  1. The belief that professional and personal lives should be kept separate.
  2. The fear of appearing vulnerable and weak.
  3. The confusion surrounding how to offer support.

There is a long-held belief that emotions should be “left at the door” when we enter the workplace.  Whatever is going on in our personal lives should be compartmentalized in order to be “dealt with” when we leave work.

That may have worked when most of us worked a standard 40-hour work week and were essentially unreachable outside the office or work site.  But all that changed with the onset of technology.

While technology has been a great boon to many businesses and its workers, it has come with a price:  the 24/7 eLeash.  Today we are constantly accessible at any time of the day or night by email, text messaging, or even the “old-fashioned” phone call.  Workers often are unable to resist the technological call even if they are on vacation or celebrating a holiday with their families; some workers will “check in” even if they are hospitalized (but still conscious).

Because compassion requires the conscious acknowledgement of another person’s pain or suffering, it requires an emotional vulnerability that many workers are afraid to display in professional situations.

But this lack of compassion has deleterious consequences.  The employee who is attempting to balance a heavy workload with a family health crisis might be afraid to ask for help due to fears of being labeled as someone who “can’t handle” the demands of the job.  The resulting high stress levels negatively affect not only their performance, but also their emotional well-being and physical health.

Similarly, the manager who has excelled throughout his career may fear being labeled as “weak” if he responds compassionately (rather than autocratically or “by the book”) to a coworker’s need for some scheduling flexibility due to child demands from a recent divorce.  After all, wouldn’t this “softness” be transmitted through the office grapevine – with the result that he will be “taken advantage of” in the future?

If employees fear asking for some organizational help (or a little “slack”) when they are experiencing major challenges or changes, then they are more likely to become disengaged, unproductive, and burned out.

While the lack of workplace compassion is most frequently viewed as occurring between managers and their subordinates, it is also lacking in the interactions between colleagues and peers.

If the workplace culture is characterized by an obsessive compulsion to “win” and an aversion to “loss,” then employees tend to view providing any kind of compassionate assistance to their coworkers as an action that could undermine their personal ability to succeed.  In such an environment, even authentic offers to help may be viewed with suspicion:  what do they really want in exchange for this help?

Regardless of their formal structure of the workplace relationship, many people are uncomfortable when they are faced with someone who is hurting, in pain, or in desperate need.  How to offer support becomes a tricky undertaking:  would my offer to help make them feel that they are somehow inferior or then feel “bad” about themselves?

How Workplace Compassion Contributes to Organizational Success   

Displaying compassion to our fellow workers, subordinates, and managers requires an acceptance of our innate humanity.  In other words, compassion brings the “human” back into the workplace.

But compassion is not just a “feel good” workplace characteristic.  According to Worline and Dutton (2017), “compassion matters for competitive advantage.”

In an age in which innovation, collaboration, client customization, and adaptability are critical to organizational sustainability, there is an urgent demand for “bigger, better, and faster” – regardless of the goals’ reasonableness or achievability.  As burnout runs rampant in many organizations and employees choose to leave their employers (rather than continuously strive toward the achievement of these unreasonable demands), organizations must rethink their attitudes toward urgency.

Urgency was first touted as a way to create an adrenaline rush in employees so that they could work tirelessly toward the completion of tasks that were critical to organizational success.  But urgency and adrenaline are only healthy and sustainable in short doses; prolonged periods of urgent action that are not balanced with periods of respite and reward create not only burnout, but also emotional and physical health problem.

In other words, if everything is urgent…then nothing really is.

By instead rethinking organizational policies and processes in terms of their level of compassion toward workers, companies can reap the benefits of an engaged, energized, and loyal workforce.

I’m not kidding:  adding compassion as a criteria for policies and procedures has measurable benefits:

  • In a study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University, leaders who interacted with their subordinates in ways that were perceived as fair and self-sacrificing were rewarded with employees who were more loyal, committed, and collaborative in working to find solutions to problems.
  • Fowler and Christakis found that generous, compassionate, and kind actions created a chain reaction in workplaces – thus creating a cultural change toward compassion.
  • In a 2012 study published in BMC Public Health, compassionate acts built bonds between workers – which led to decreased stress levels and greater productivity.

Workplace compassion creates a culture of cooperation and trust.  Rather than a culture of competition, organizational cultures that exhibit and support compassion tend to have lower health care utilization rates, greater employee engagement, less turnover, and a culture of trust that supports learning and innovation.  (I told you I wasn’t kidding.)

5 Tips to Building Workplace Compassion

While I firmly believe that every employee desires to be treated compassionately at work, I also recognize that there are many hurdles to building a culture of compassion.

Based on my research, I have identified five simple ways that organizational leaders and individual employees can approach their work with a sense of compassion:

Tip #1:  Don’t respond based on implicit assumptions.  Bias is well-researched in the protected classes (e.g., gender, race, religion, etc.), but is infrequently acknowledged in the areas of human behavior.  While everyone has implicit biases through which we appraise the behaviors of others, it is important to step outside of these biases in order to see another’s perspective of the challenging situation.

Tip #2:  Be present and authentic.  Compassion should be given freely.  This is accomplished by becoming present in the moment – taking the time to see and listen to the people with whom you are engaged.  In other words, get out of your head and open your heart.

Tip #3:  Encourage employee conversations about non-work activities.  When employees are encouraged to socialize with one another, it provides greater insights into their motivations, fears, and aspirations.  When sharing such information, it can build trust and encourage a greater proclivity to help and support each other.  (NOTE:  Be patient with such sharing activities and NEVER force someone to share more than what they are comfortable with.)

Tip #4:  Create organizational initiatives that encourage employees helping each other.  Organizations that have a strong sense of community involvement may have an advantage in building a compassionate, collaborative culture – but don’t focus exclusively outside the organization.  Perhaps create an initiative that allows employees to provide assistance to other employees who might be in need.  For example, a fund which allows workers to donate their unused time off or make a financial donation to help a coworker.

Tip #5:  Recognize when employees act compassionately and help each other.  Formal recognition (e.g., awards, events) as well as informal “thank you’s” or even the offer to get an overworked colleague a much-needed cup of coffee are powerful ways to reinforce the importance that an organization places on compassionate activities in the workplace.

We humans are wired to empathize – which is an important aspect of compassion.  We’re wired to experience a visceral, emotional response to another’s suffering.  But compassion is more than empathy:  it is also the active response to help alleviate that suffering.

Additionally, compassionate action not only helps someone else who is in need but also makes us feel better and more hopeful.  Acting compassionately is a win-win.

So, even though pain may be an inevitable part of life, our feelings of suffering are not.  Compassion is what makes us human – and it’s a necessity in all of our lives.  Since we spend the majority of our time at work, we need compassion in our daily existence.  And it is through acts of compassion that companies can embrace the humanity of its workforce and harness the power of its only nondupulicatable competitive advantage:  its human resources.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

 

 

6 Cultural Characteristics of Innovative Companies (Infographic)

INFOGRAPHIC - 6 Cultural Characteristics of Innovative Companies

Innovation in business is defined as moving forward by implementing new, more effective processes, products, and ideas.  But such innovation cannot simply be demanded by organizational leaders.  The employees charged with the duty to innovate must be motivated and empowered to do so.  Unfortunately, that’s where many of the challenges of innovation emerge.

Employees will only unleash their creativity in the pursuit of more innovative business ideas IF the organizational culture fully supports their efforts.

There are 6 cultural characteristics that define an innovative company:

  1. Trust
  2. Integrity
  3. Respect
  4. Humility
  5. Faith
  6. Hope

But how do you encourage, support, and reinforce these cultural values throughout the workforce?

I have created an infographic to help.  This infographic not only defines each of these cultural characteristics, but also provides quick tips to introduce and sustain them within the workplace. Although I’ve included it in this post, you can download the pdf by clicking here.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com