AWWA Articles

Career Zone -- Tips for observing International Listening Month

Shhhh. March is International Listening Month. It’s a great opportunity to brush up on skills that help us listen and communicate more effectively.

Career ZoneListening and communicating -- it sounds so simple, but it really isn’t. Maybe that’s why I’ve noticed that a common theme within each of my Career Zone columns is – you guessed it – listening and communicating! Both skills are key to being successful in the workplace, and in life in general.

Numerous sources estimate that people spend 70 to 80 percent of their day communicating and about 55 percent listening. Unfortunately, people report remembering as little as 15 percent of what they hear. So, the lesson is, to communicate better, try listening more.

To help, I suggest practicing these techniques to step up your conversation skills a notch:

  1. It's not all about you. Show that you care about what others are saying by being a good listener. Focus on asking good questions that encourage others to share. In return, they will be more likely to listen to what you share. Rather than focusing on your own thoughts and words, pay careful attention to the meaning behind what others say to you.
  2. Focus on the conversation. Don’t exhibit behaviors that others perceive as being indifferent or dismissive, such as checking your cell phone, jingling items in your pocket or fidgeting with a pen. Be intentional about not interrupting. This may be a difficult habit to break but it is extremely distracting and signals that you aren’t paying attention.
  3. Listen for common ground. Once you and those you are talking with discover common ground and priorities, it is easier to discuss differences or points of disagreement in a professional and respectful way.
  4. Find a quiet location. It is frustrating to try to share information while phones are ringing, music blaring and other conversations are occurring. Your conversation will be significantly more effective in quiet place, away from distractions. Always remember to leave behind or silence your cell phone during conversations.
  5. Minimize visual distractions. Crowds of people walking by, screens and monitors in the background and doorways can provide visual stimulation that will distract from a conversation. Try an internal conference room for uninterrupted conversations.
  6. Beware of cognitive dissonance. This happens when you hear only what you want to hear, based on your expectations and reality. All of us tend to seek consistency in our attitudes and perceptions, so when they are challenged, we feel uncomfortable and may try to “explain something away.” Instead, accept the challenge of actively listening to and trying to understand different points of view.

When it comes to listening and communications, patience is indeed a virtue. It is easy to become frustrated with or stop listening to someone who has their own unique communications style. Instead, take these suggestions for a test drive and see how they can improve your interactions. Send us your favorite listening tips!

Stuart Karasik has spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was previously the training program manager for the City of San Diego.