If the fire alarm went off in the room and you could only tell your listener one thing, what would it be? Watch this video to learn how to make sure what you say is what they hear.
A few years ago, my husband and I bought a kitchen table from a reputable furniture company. Within a week, we noticed a few flaws in the finish. I called the help desk and was instructed to buy an extended warranty policy. They said I would get priority treatment, have a direct dial in line for assistance and would be entitled to additional maintenance past the standard time period. So, we purchased the policy.
A repairman came to our home and touched up the flaws. A few months later, more of the finish started peeling off. I called again. Another repairman fixed the problem. It happened two or three more times. Each time, someone came to touch up the table. At that point, I should have insisted that the company replace the table, but I didn’t. About two years later, the problem re-surfaced. This time, the company said my extended maintenance contract had expired so there was nothing they could do. They advised me to go buy furniture finishing sticks.
Fast forward to today; I use those furniture sticks often, but now the table is warping. I contacted customer service. We exchanged multiple e-mails. A representative called me. She was responsive, apologetic and said she was forwarding her notes to management and would have someone call me. She did, and it went something like this.
“You have a problem with a table?”
“Yes,” I said. Did you read the notes from the emails and the person I spoke with?”
She didn’t see any notes. I described the saga again.
“Well” she responded, “we sent people to your house and everything was fine.”
It wasn’t fine I stated. If it was fine, I wouldn’t have kept calling back.
“What” she asked?
I repeated myself.
“I’m looking at your file and everything was fine.”
Now I was annoyed. Again, I explained the situation. Again, she told me everything was fine. “Are you listening to me?” I asked.
“Yes, she said. I see that every time we sent someone to your house, everything was fine”.
Tired of talking to someone who wasn’t paying attention and didn’t seem to care, I told her I would never shop at her furniture store again. She said that’s unfortunate. I said it was fine and hung up. I don’t blame this company for failing to replace a table that is out of extended warranty. I do blame their management for failure to listen to their customers. I blame them for lack of empathy. And I blame them for not making communication a priority.
There are several ways to tell if someone is really listening to you. In person, they will maintain eye contact, so you know they’re listening. They often angle their body toward you which signals they are in the conversation. Engaged listeners typically don’t fidget, tap their fingers or shift in their seats.
When you can’t see someone, there are verbal clues that will signal if they’re paying attention. Ask a question or ask for their opinion. If they respond with “what” or ask you to repeat yourself, they probably weren’t listening. Then ask them if they’re listening. If they’re caught off guard or continue to repeat the same thing over or over, that’s a good clue that they’re not really listening.
At work, poor listening skills translate to poor performance, poor relationships and poor productivity. That’s why listening is such an important skill for leaders to master. It actually takes more concentration and focus than speaking. When you listen, you show interest in others and make them feel valued.
We worked with a candy company that manufactures and sells products in more than eighty countries around the globe. Despite the enormity of running this company, several times a month the CEO joins employees for lunch in the cafeteria so he can listen and stay in touch. It’s not a complaint session because most of his employees are happy. While they talk shop, much of the conversation focuses on families, current events and what’s happening in their lives.
Employees feel that the CEO really cares about them, because he really does. They feel their voices are heard because they are. There is a big difference between leaders saying they want to keep the lines of communication open and leaders who really do.
An article published in the Harvard Business Review lumped listening into three categories:
1. Internal listening which is when you are focused on your own thoughts and concerns but pretend to focus on others.
2. Focused listening is when you focus on others but are not fully connected to them.
3. 360 listening is what they term “the magic”. Not only are you listening to what someone else is saying, but you are paying attention to how they say it.
Listening improves productivity in the workplace. If you are truly engaged in a conversation, it is natural to ask probing questions such as “can you elaborate” or “will you share an experience that led to your thought process” or “how can this help our team achieve their objectives?” These are questions that show you are fully present and genuinely interested in understanding and learning more.
Over the past two decades, we have worked with hundreds of executives. Those who are sincere listeners have several traits in common. They come across as caring empathetic individuals. Employees tend to want to work harder for people that seem to care about them. Leaders who listen embrace people’s differences and try to understand how those traits can be utilized instead of trying to mold them into someone they want them to be. These leaders also tend to be open to new approaches and ideas, rather than thinking they have all the answers.
Yet, published articles report less than 2% of all professionals have any formal training to help them understand and improve listening techniques.
The furniture company I mentioned is a textbook example. After I hung up with the manager, I e-mailed a note of thanks to the original customer service representative who tried to help me. I said a manager did call as promised and then briefly recounted the conversation saying she was not helpful.
The service representative e-mailed me back immediately, but to my surprise she wrote: “Thank you Karen. Did the manager resolve your problem?” At first, I thought I read it wrong. Then I realized, she didn’t read what I wrote. Chances are, her attention was challenged by multiple tasks other than my problem.
Unfortunately, her failure to read my comments only further cemented my opinion that this company doesn’t really care about its customers. Because service representatives are the front line of many companies, they have a unique opportunity to shape reputations and forge relationships.
Empowering employees with on-going education and training to improve listening and communication skills will surely reap great returns on your investment both inside the company and when dealing with important customers.
Even the most accomplished professional can be shy or struggle to break into conversations. This video offers three ways to get started.
Saying I’m sorry is becoming overused. Today Show morning host Matt Lauer is sorry. CBS morning anchor Charlie Rose is sorry. Actor Kevin Spacey is sorry. Senator Al Franken is sorry. Movie producer Harvey Weinstein says he’s sorry. Because the word sorry is used so often when someone admits doing something wrong, it has lost is power.
In our business, we have always advised clients in trouble to apologize if they erred and if they were genuinely sorry. Saying I’m sorry acknowledges vulnerability and humility. However, when it’s heard too often, it begins to sound insincere and void of any real meaning.
That’s why I find it interesting that “I’m sorry” is now being accompanied with two new words; ‘ashamed and embarrassed’. The growing list of powerful men accused of inappropriate workplace behavior say they’re “ashamed and embarrassed” that they’ve let people down.
Should we weep now or hold our tears for a more appropriate moment? I don’t believe for a second these men are ashamed or embarrassed about their behavior. They are ashamed and embarrassed that their behavior is now public. The real shame is for the people these men allegedly harassed who have been living in silence all of these years for fear that their careers or reputations would be damaged.
Harassment in the workplace is nothing new. What is new, is that people, especially women, are now empowered to speak out. It doesn’t matter how long ago something inappropriate happened. Survivors are regaining power by stripping power from high-profile men who apparently made their own rules. What is new, is what some once laughed away as ‘boys will be boys’ is no longer an acceptable thought process. What is new is that “I’m sorry” is no longer and should no longer be enough.
A quick unofficial survey of my professional female friends and colleagues reveals that almost all of us have been the victims of inappropriate male behavior. It may have been a touch in an inappropriate place or language that was sexually explicit.
As a younger television news reporter, I would come home and recount some of the things that happened or were said in newsrooms I worked in. Horrified, my husband used to say if this happened in his office, these men and women would have been fired. He would urge me to report them. In most instances, no one would have done anything about it.
I recall a television videographer graphically recounting his sexual experience with a woman he was dating. Given we were in a news van traveling at a high rate of speed, I couldn’t get out. I repeatedly told him I was not interested, and he had crossed the line. He just laughed. There was no one to report him to because he would have denied it. It would have been his word against mine.
In my day, television newsrooms were often synonymous with bad behavior. Inappropriate conduct that didn’t make the news was almost the norm. It wasn’t just sexual advances or inappropriate flirting. It was intimidation, aggressive behavior and a barrage of obscenities hurled at individuals. It was putting someone down in front of others, reducing them to tears.
I once worked for a news director who threw his typewriter through the plate glass window of his office as the staff was readying for the evening news. The newsroom stopped. Everyone looked up. Then, as quickly as the glass had shattered, everyone resumed working as if the outburst had never occurred.
Don’t get me wrong; there were many trustworthy ethical people in the multiple newsrooms I worked in. But, like a fast-moving virus, it sometimes felt like the few people with bad values contaminated the entire space.
I recall an evening that I was asked to cover a specific story. Due to medical reasons and a note from my doctor, I was unable to go. The night time editor cursed at me, called me names, insinuated I was a liar and then proceeded to criticize my qualifications and questioned how I was ever hired.
Visibly shaken, I called my boss, explained what happened and told her I was going to file a complaint with human resources. The next day, she cautioned me not to ‘make this a big deal’. She said she would talk to him, but he probably didn’t mean anything and was just doing his job. She said if I made waves, it would come back to haunt me. She was the only woman in management and on a fast track to move up the ladder. She didn’t want me to get involved, because she didn’t want to be involved.
Different times. Different standards. Yet, cultures of silence and fear still exist today.
While NBC says they had never had a single complaint against Matt Lauer in all his years at the network, I find it difficult to believe that no one even had an inkling that he may have misbehaved. If he did what multiple people said he did, then many must have known about it. They were simply too afraid of him to complain.
Since Harvey Weinstein was first accused of sexual assault and harassment, three dozen men have been accused of varying degrees of misconduct. Chances are, more complaints will surface. The question the rest of us face: will we become de-sensitized to these accusations as we have to societal violence and other unfortunate but common occurrences?
Change is always slow, but change can lead to improvement. At the Today Show, CBS, Netflix and other companies who have come under fire for the bad behavior of their employees, we are witnessing management doing the right thing to reinforce what their organizations stand for.
The immediate firing, publicly communicating and not tolerating this kind of behavior shows us that as organizations, they are the ones who are sorry, ashamed and embarrassed that this has happened under their watch.
In the past, an apology and statement saying what your business stands for often made things go away. Today, it’s one thing to say what you stand for or have your core values printed on posters that are plastered on walls around the office. It’s something entirely different to enforce those values.