ABZ’s of Communication for PMs and Techies… L (part 2): active Listening

What is GOOD communication?

If you can’t answer this seemingly “simple” question, how can you as a manager do 80% of your job (communicating)?

In this second part of the letter L, we take a look at what many people consider to be the passive side of communication:  Listening – with an eye to making it an active part of the equation.

L = Active ListeningActive Listening

Often we mistake hearing for listening – but there’s a big difference.  As I pen this article, I am sitting outside on my deck in Florida and I “hear” an ongoing orchestra of cicadas and crickets –complete with crescendos and chorus.  It’s like a natural mix of electrical sounds intermingled with a subtle Latin maracas beat of the crickets.  But, while I’m hearing these sounds in the background, I’m not really listening and there is no communication going on with me.  (The insects are communicating with each other.)

Listening is a whole different concept when it comes to communication.  We can have passive listening (one way communication where the speaker delivers a message) or active listening (which is the subject of this post).  Active listening implies that we are not only hearing, but also deciphering a message and providing a response.  Wikipedia defines active listening as  (I’ve added the emphasis):

Active listening is a communication technique. Active listening requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

When interacting, people often are not listening attentively. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements). Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference and suspending judgment are important to fully attend to the speaker.

In corporate settings, it is the “thinking about what we are going to say next” that dominates and obstructs communication more than anything else. Rather than truly digesting what the speaker is saying, too often we concentrate on what our response will be and how to craft the words so that they come out well.  Group settings such as meetings, especially when the hierarchies are strict and “fiefdom” mentality prevails (turf protection) give rise to a lot of dysfunction with “active” listening.  As a result, communication gets crossed when the goal becomes speak, speak, speak instead of speak, actively listen, respond with questions.

Good communication is the result of respectful interaction on a “two way street” – the speaker speaks a message and the recipient decodes it and responds to make sure that the message as delivered is understood to be the same as the speaker’s intended meaning.  Often what we say is not what we meant to tell – there is a disconnect in the sender/receiver process – and the feedback to what is said is the clue to effective communication. When the loop is broken because there is no digestion and feedback, communication breakdowns occur.

If you are the speaker, it is important to encourage active listening.  If you are the listener, it is incumbent on you to set aside your secondary purposes (preoccupation with other things, blackberry or pda usage, deciding what to say next) and concentrate on what is being said.

After all, isn’t the reason for communication to communicate?  We can all do well to listen actively and improve our part in the communication process.

To your successful projects!


Carol Dekkers
email: dekkers@qualityplustech.com

For more information on northernSCOPE(TM) visit www.fisma.fi (in English pages) and for upcoming training in Tampa, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Helsinki and other locations in 2010, visit www.qualityplustech.com.


=======Copyright 2010, Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED =======


One response to “ABZ’s of Communication for PMs and Techies… L (part 2): active Listening

  1. Pingback: ABZ’s of Communication for PMs and Techies… M: The four M’s of Messages | Musings About Software Development

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