Two Ears and One Mouth: Use Accordingly During Organizational Change

“Listen to the whispers and you won’t have to hear the screams.”

Cherokee proverb

One of the reasons I enjoy the dogs in my life is because of how engaged and interested they are when we are together. Spunky seems intrigued with our chats as he sits on the floor with his outstretched paws reaching towards me. Harley’s wagging tail and occasional ‘woofs’ tell me that what I’m saying matters.

I think we humans appreciate animals because they naturally employ some of the five key elements of active listening. These elements help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.

Action: Be All Ears During Organizational Change

1. Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message.

  • Look at the speaker dirctly.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a response.
  • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language. What is not said also speaks loudly.

2. Show that you are listening. Use body language and gestures to convey your attention.

  • Nod occasionally. Smile and use other facial expressions. Just be natural.
  • Hold an open and inviting posture.

3. Provide feedback. Reflect what is being said, and ask questions.

  • Ask questions to clarify points: “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?”
  • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.

4. Defer judgment. Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said.

  • Allow the speaker to finish.
  • Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments. Interrupting is a waste of time, frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.

5. Respond Appropriately. Gain information and perspective.

  • Be candid, open and honest in your response.
  • Assert your opinions respectfully. Treat the other person as he would want to be treated.

Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. The next time you are tempted to jump in and provide solutions immediately to prove your value, just remember the Harley and Spunky approach: don’t try to prove anything but the value you place on what the person in front of you is saying. There is nothing wrong with being active – just be an active listener.

Find more active listening tips on Mind Tools.

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Sandra Schwan

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