The manager asks, “Do you think these documents will make it to the branch office on Friday if they are in this evening’s courier?” To which the associate replied, “Yes, that would work.” So, the manager says, “Excellent!” and walks off, assuming both parties agreed that the documents will be completed and despatched that same evening. On the other hand, the associate thought the manager was just enquiring on the lead time for despatch, but not that the documents had to be in that evening’s courier!
When the documents are not received on time, who shall take the rap– miscommunication?
We are all too familiar with the term ‘miscommunication’, which is often used as justification whenever there is a misunderstanding or confusion that results in disharmony, bitterness and conflict.
What is communication?
Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place, person or group to another. When it comes to communication, emphasis is usually placed on the person conveying the message – we should understand our audience, articulate our thoughts well, use stories to make the message stick, make ourselves more relatable by empathising with the listener… the list goes on.
However, every bit of communication involves a sender, a message and a recipient, and learning how to listen well is just as important to effective communication as knowing how to speak well.
As part of the communication process, the recipient (the listener) pays attention to the message being conveyed by the speaker and responds either using words or through their actions. People listen through the filters they set up, which is driven by individual motive and intention. Depending on the objective of the conversation and the outcomes required, keywords are detected to help form their next response.
While it may take just a tenth of a second to form an impression, the first few exchanges of words often seals it. Very different people who meet for the first time tend to be more wary of each other, and trust levels in such situations can often be low.
How we listen – or rather, our motive for listening – affects the types of conversations we will have with others. To encourage uplifting and empowering conversations, we must first determine our motive for listening.
According to the late Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results,there are three broad levels of listening:
1. Listening to confirm – where trust is at its lowest
2. Listening to consider – where trust is conditional
3. Listening to connect and co-create – where the trust level is at its highest
Listening to confirm
At this level, people are exchanging information, facts and updates. The information given and requested by an individual provides clarity and alignment. There is validation of what is being said and an assessment of the impact of the information being delivered.
There is not a lot of trust here and conversations at this level are not intended to create any long-term, lasting relationships. Conversation is transactional; it is a ‘ask and tell’ situation and the listening intent is to confirm – it is done to further understand and inform me of what I already know. We should progress from this exchange of information or pleasantries to the next stage.
Listening to consider
At this level, messages are crafted with the purpose of advocating and defending. Conversation is positional as both people are on different sides and there is uncertainty in trusting others for fear of being taken advantage of.
There are attempts to be a good listener and yet still be cautious of the other side. There are exchanges in the balance of power throughout the conversation, while opportunities to achieve win-win solutions are being worked on. The individual may shift into a more defensive mode when criticised.
Too often, we ask questions to guide people to where we want them to go. This is known as asking leading questions, and it often activates distrust as it causes the recipient to be on their guard. Listening is done with the intent to accept or reject the opinion of others as the trust level is conditional.
Spending too long at this stage could lead to an impasse, or at its worst, turn into a conflict situation.
Listening to connect and co-create
Conversations that are non-judgmental and open to exploring uncharted territories are likelier to encourage more engaging interactions. People tend to get more inspired to discover new ideas, take risks and learn.
While depressing conversations will make people switch to defensive mode and shut down, uplifting conversations foster high levels of trust and collaboration between people who are different from each other, allowing them to establish relationships.
Conversations operating at this level are transformational. Listening is with the intent to connect and co-create for mutual success.
Related: Listening: The Key to Understanding
Benefits of transformational conversations
The third level of listening, listening to connect and co-create, is essential in building high levels of trust between two people, which is the basis for transformational conversations that is empowering for both parties involved.
In change management efforts in organisations, unless there is buy-in, participation and commitment from the employees, the change effort is not likely to be successful. We must be open and honest with those whom we lead and focus our attention on the individual, in order to have authentic conversations that will increase engagement levels.
In winning customer loyalty, we have to reach out to customers with an open mind and be willing to accept their frank feedback about our products and services.
When listening with the intention to co-create, we will ask questions which we have no answers for.
We listen to what is important to them, seek their opinions, and explore their ‘world’ for a resolution that is mutually beneficial.
When we listen with the intention to connect, we start off with a neutral mindset, enabling us to really hear what others are saying without putting it through filters that are based on our own transactional and positional agendas. This allows us to discover new insights in the process of connecting and synthesising ideas – a win-win situation for all.
“In listening lies great power. Many are expert in speaking (while everyone hears), adept in analyzing in bits and pieces, very prompt in commenting, and always ready to stamp judgement of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Very few are skilled in listening, first, with the ears and, then, with the heart. Those who do; hold true, sustainable, and great power.” – Ufuoma Apoki
Chong Sook Leng is the head of human resource at Tokio Marine Insurans (M) Bhd. She works with leaders to achieve organisational goals through leadership development, culture alignment and employee engagement. To connect with her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.