Use Yer Ears!! Why we need to be better listeners.

photo: wallyg

photo: wallyg

It was another slide in the Sharon Salzberg slide show on Beliefnet that has inspired this post.  I find Sharon Salzberg’s writings so accessible and meaningful.  They are always gentle reminders of the things we know deep inside anyway.  There has been speculation that the Buddha’s last words were something along the lines of, “Be a lamp unto yourselves.”  Although there are different takes and interpretations of his last teachings, I tend to like the idea of Be a lamp unto yourselves because it is an easy reminder that the answers are within me.

Most of us know that we should be good listeners and that being a good listener requires effort and sometimes requires training ourselves out of the habit of letting our mind wander to compose our reply, our grocery lists or to discredit the speaker with silent judgment.

I recently met a new person at a conference.  She would be considered a regional library star and I approached her to ask about a program she was implementing.  She spoke for a minute and I listened very carefully because I was quite interested in her ideas.  When I replied, I shared with her some of the things I’ve been working on and thinking about.  I was excited to be sharing ideas with a colleague, brainstorming, riffing off of each other.  But, as I slid into about the 3 minute mark, I could see her wander off.  She was looking over my shoulder, giving me the death nod (yes, yes, yes, don’t really care what you’re saying) and clearly done with me.

Now, in her defense, I was not at my most articulate.  I probably rambled a bit.  But, she could have paid me a little bit of respect by showing the signs of actively listening to me.  The experience reminded me that I need to be aware of this in my own conversations.  I confess that I’d be reluctant to network with this person, though I would probably give it another go.

I’ve been thinking about this art of listening and what makes it successful and I came up with a couple of thoughts.

1.   When I feel my mind wandering, I’ve been thinking the word Listen!

2.   I also have been bringing myself back by focusing on the person’s lips moving.  It helps me.  You might find something else that helps you.

3.  I’ve been silently repeating keywords in my head.  I recently sat in on a meeting to organize a staff day.  The meeting was late in the day and I’ve been having trouble anyway with keeping focus.  As people talked, I highlighted their words: team building, inspiring, food, petting zoo, fun, laugh together.

4.  I have also had some success with some doodling while listening in groups.  One on one this would probably appear rude, so, I tend to avoid it.  I’m not sure why this works; but, for me, it does.

5.  When people come to me in my cube, I stop what I’m doing and I turn my chair to face them.  I find that even if they are to my side, it is harder to listen than when I am squared off, face to face.

Really listening is not always easy; but, the benefits are so great that we really can’t afford not to be good listeners.

Listening is vital to creating good working relationship; to helping you understand a person’s position on a certain topic; to hearing their ideas; to showing the courtesy of being present in a conversation and ultimately to your success in your job and in your personal life.

Listening is one of life’s necessary gifts.

5 Tips for Cultivating Good Work Relationships

telephone1 Painting: Betsy Boyle

1.  Communicate.  This one would seem like a no brainer; but, I’m always amazed at the lack of communication I find in the places I have worked.  Here is an example: Employee A organizes the adult programming for a library.  She has scheduled movies on a certain night of the week for a few years.  She logs onto the calendar to book the community room several months ahead and finds that Employee B, the person who does children’s programming has booked the same night for several months.  Employee A can move the movie night to another night; but, it will require training a generally elderly population into switching nights.  It will also require a rescheduling of personnel.  All of this is fine in the long run; after all, staff must share the facilities.  The problem exists because Employee B didn’t have the courtesy to just call up Employee A and have a discussion about booking the room and there by at least giving Employee A a heads up.  Now there are feelings of irritation and suspicion instead of one of teamwork.  Employee B missed an opportunity to bond with her colleague and build a relationship based on negotiation and support.  Do you think Employee A will jump at the chance to help out Employee B should she need it?  I doubt it.  Pick up the phone or wander down to your colleague’s desk and talk them.

2.  Set up your coworkers to succeed.  What I mean by that is if you are presented with an opportunity to make a situation smoother or give your coworker the information they need to successfully navigate a problem, DO IT!  A good example is when dealing with a customer complaint that needs to be handed off to the next person.  Take a moment, whether by phone or in person, to bring your coworker up to speed in an objective way.  You don’t have to bias your coworker’s opinion of the customer; but, you can give them all the facts and even suggestions for resolution if you have any.  If you need to forward a customer call to another person, take a moment to introduce them to the problem before allowing the call to transfer.  This is a win/win situation because not only are you building a trusting relationship with your colleague, you are also improving customer service.  There is nothing more annoying than calling a customer service line and getting handed off  a million times and having to tell each new person the whole story.

3.  Avoid office gossip.  This is hard.  There is always one person in any workplace that others like to complain about.  Try to avoid this kind of chit chat.  Although it may feeling like a bit of coworker bonding at the moment, it is actually planting the seeds of distrust in everyone involved.  If your coworkers talk about your other coworker behind their back, who’s to say they don’t talk about you when you’re not there?  And there lies the rub.  By not participating in these conversations, you coworkers quickly learn to curb these types of bitch fests while you are around.  They also begin to realize that you are a person that can be trusted to treat others fairly.  This is an excellent role to have in an organization because it puts you in a position of being able to help create a cohesive team and change a distrustful atmosphere.

4. Give when you can.  There are times in every organization when you are less busy than someone else.  If you see your coworker stressed from overwork and you have time, offer to help.  If you have an answer needed to help a customer, offer it.  In my library I’m seen as one of the techie people around here and reference staff have been known to interrupt my offdesk time to get me to help a customer with a computer question.  When I was younger, this would sometimes irritate me because I felt that the other staff should know these things.  But, now that I’m older and just more experienced I realize that we all have our strengths and roles.  Mine is to help people with computer issues that are beyond basic troubleshoots.  I’ve had coworkers whose strengths were in business resources, government documents and geneology and I was happy to pass the customer to them.  That’s teamwork and when the team is working together, the customer always wins.

5. Show respect to others at all times, even when someone drives you crazy.  This can sometimes be hard; but, it is really not negotiable if you want good working relationships with coworkers.  Deliver criticism gently and receive it maturely.  I’ve seen coworkers snap at each other, treat each other rudely and disrespect each other in a whole gamut of ways I had never thought of before.  I’ve had a boss who yelled and kicked file cabinets and liked to make people cry.  I’ve had a boss who never came out of her office even if the library was crazy and we needed her help.  I’ve seen coworkers treat nonprofessional staff as if they were idiots.  All of this behavior leads to a workplace in chaos which is always bad for the customer.  And it may be a cliche; but, seriously, a little respect goes a long way.

This is a good start.  I’m sure there are many other ways to build good rapport with the folks you work with day in and day out.  Some of us spend as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families.    We should take some care tending to these relationships.