What? Reading Comprehension Equals Listening. Huh?


My wife De Ann and I have five kids; ages 21 through 9. Chad who is 15 has down syndrome and has a lot of gifts; however the ability to speak is not one of them.  He listens though, and some time ago I began to believe he comprehended more than he let on.  I couldn’t  test for understanding, press for specifics, or paraphrase without appearing any more delusional than most who knew me already thought I was; or could I?

We hear with our ears, but we also listen with our eyes as they interpret nonverbals, our previous experiences as they shape our response, our bias, innate and taught rote memory answers, and of course our “gut.”   So I couldn’t  hear what Chad had to say, but I learned to listen to his eyes, what I’ll call “grunting inflection (which is not a bowel movement), how hard he pulled on my hand and so on.

So I got that figured out, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t have to spend a good portion of the last few years “listening” to people who I can’t hear.  I read mountains of crap daily via various social media platforms, email, and text messages.  I’m pretty sure, you’re no different, and so I started to think about online listening skills.

I found that one of the key skills required to be a good online  listener is  learning to listen for nothing. I get that it’s HR’s role to want and need to communicate, and when working for a company that HR has a message, and that HR is in charge of delivering the message; but employees are shutting down because the communications are one way streets.

Its’ a  two-way street that requires effort unless you drive a Hummer like I used to.   The fact is that I listen mainly to respond far too frequently.  In other words, once I think I know where you’re typing is taking me, I’m already formulating the response, I’ve shut down my listening and am only hearing because I already” know” the punchline.  Then I’m embarrassed because I didn’t listen/comprehend. I’m disagreeing with something that would benefit me.  What an idot.  Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Read some old threads of conversations where you had disagreement, and were wrong.
  • Look at the avatar or picture in between comments & don’t respond immediately.  Humanize the conversation.
  • Close the other browsers.  I was obsessing about missing something.  I missed the important stuff.
  • When you read/listen judge the content as if you were hearing it from your boss, mother, priest, someone you respect.
  • Concentrating on absorbing what is being said is the goal.  Responding quickly as to appear bright is not.
  • Be humble and don’t feel.  You’ll liberate your preconceived bias.  Its’ that “letting go thing” and feels good.

” Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again” ~Andre Gide.

Yeah, whatever.  Whats the value of improving comprehension or online listening?

Only by comprehending could I learn about what made others tick. When I failed to comprehend properly I failed to embrace an opportunity to create a greater value by losing the ability to influence.  Once your employees, customers, followers realize that you are not listening to them, they will lose trust in you and decide that because your mind is closed to their opinions, you will never provide them with what they need. If you don’t comprehend with an open mind, you are left with your conditioned reactions, and miss out on learning, helping, and winning.

By cultivating these skills, you make the process of collating feedback more productive. These skills will allow you to better understand what the needs of your constituents are, build a strong rapport, answer question and resolve problems more effectively. You will also be better equipped in finding underlying meanings in what you are being told.

Due to the fact that many of us manage our employees our  online, specific challenges present themselves in terms of the processes of both listening and demonstrating to your audience that are doing so. You cannot rely on verbal and visual cues.  I needed to find ways of letting my consultants know that I was listening to what they are saying, absorbing their opinions and offering more focused solutions.   When reading through your comments, views, messages, likes mentions, etc., try not to react immediately; rather spend time grouping together similar topics and request clarification.  ”so if I’m reading this correctly, what you’re getting at is….” Simple.

Now, because I think I know my business and services better than anyone who works with me I am confident in my interpretation of how to develop the solution to the problem that we all just agreed needed to be fixed.  So I just invested in generating trust and collaboration and am about to flush it by forcing my solution to the problem.  Dohh!

I’ve got a long way to go because I still feel bias or prejudice towards folks offering sharply contrasting views to mine.  I’ll dismiss views because of what I perceive as poor grammar or self-expression.   On the other side I’ll not challenge some because they just seem so damn fragile.  Things seemed simpler when I was told “son, when I want your opinion, I’ll tell you what it is.

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Posted on October 6, 2011, in Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, HR Management & Leadership. and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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