Listening Part III: Lose the Distractions!

Leaders tell me that there are things that get in the way of their ability to really listen. All of them can be remedied. We’ll start with the simplest – the physical distractions.

To be able to really listen, we must quiet our minds and focus. For many, this will mean that we need to control the distractions that will allow us to “lean in” to the conversation.

Years ago I had a manager who allowed our conversations to be pulled away by physical distractions. When we were in a conversation, and his phone rang, he picked it up. If someone came to his door with a less-than-urgent matter, he would talk it out with them while I sat idly by, feeling very small and very unnecessary. Unfortunately his habit of allowing those distractions colored my opinion of him in a very unfavorable way (and I wasn’t self aware or courageous enough in my youth to have a dialog with him about his rude behavior), prolonged our conversations, and made me feel unappreciated. For the record, his rude behavior was a significant reason for my leaving that position.

If I had been more confident, I would have respectfully asked him if he could have his administrative assistant take the incoming calls and ask people who came to his door to return later. In our world of  increasing distractions, it takes an intention to focus on the conversation and a willingness to eliminate distractions so we can do our best at truly listening. Your ability to be able to “lean in” to show you value the other person will be enhanced by doing the following:

1.      Forward the office phone to someone else or to voice mail to reduce the interruption it causes by hearing it ring. (P.S. if you are listening 1:1 on the phone, take it off “speaker” mode, for goodness’ sake. If you want to be hands free on your office phone, buy a headset).

2.      Turn off the cell phone and put it out of reach so you aren’t tempted to look at incoming messages 

3.      Turn off alerts on your office computer because, like your phones, even the sound they make can distract you from listening 

4.      Close your door (if you have one) or ask to meet later when people with non-urgent interruptions stop by when you are in a conversation 

5.      Come out from behind your desk and sit at a conference table, if you have one which eliminates a barrier to good listening 

6.      Face the person you are listening to and lean forward into the conversation 

7.      Shut up and be strategic about offering your opinion. Consider that the most important thing for you to do right now is to listen. 

Most of these solutions are all relatively easy and most are mechanical in nature – if we are intentional. The solution that seems to be the biggest hurdle is #7; the internal distraction which has to do with the value we place on what others have to say (or not). Stay tuned for the next post which will address that tougher issue.

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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