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Listen to Improve Your Company Culture

Man taking notes in a meeting

Listening: a pillar of strong culture

Sometimes, you don’t have to spend more to get larger returns.

Take listening—a faculty we use every day that can produce exponential returns if only we improve our skills. Culture sceptics may cite unnecessary expense, but investing in workplace culture often involves attention to things that don’t cost any money. With a little time and thought, your people can become ace listeners... and make better business moves.

Why? When we listen well, we get better information. Good-quality data enables deft decision making. Clearly, this contributes to success; in my research, I found that companies that demonstrate good listening are among the top 5% of leading global businesses. So, there is much value in cultivating the practice.

Effective business transactions rely on the transfer of accurate information. But there are so many ways for communication to be derailed. Inattention, language barriers, personal styles, and environmental distractions can all throw conversations off track. Listening involves much more than just hearing a processing language. And speaking often relies on the presumption, rather than the insurance, of understanding.

So, it may fall to the listener to clarify things. But first, contact must be established. And in today’s technology-enhanced world, with its myriad ways to get in touch, actually connecting with people can be more difficult than it once was. The right response is to be more diligent about it.

In my company, for instance, we survey people for their preferred mode of communication. Then, I know who will be more likely to hear my message if I choose to hail them by email, text, instant message or a good old-fashioned phone call. If I’ve got a critical message or a large group to contact, I’ll use several options. It may be cumbersome, but firing off several shots at once has the best chance of one of them hitting their marks.

This sets my audience up for success. Once connected, though, we all must take responsibility for listening. Think back to your childhood, and take turns! One thing I noticed in an executive networking group was that the most effective members were also the quietest. They took notes, they didn’t interrupt, they didn’t respond unless they had something valuable to contribute.

But, as we listen, the speaker’s delivery may fall short. That is the time to pose clarifying questions or to repeat what we’ve heard and ask if we are interpreting that correctly. In a group setting, we can’t always do this immediately. So, jot down a note—but quickly return to attentive listening.

This is also a good way to head off the natural inclination to “listen to respond.” We may get caught up in a topic and want to express our views, passion, or dissent. Those can wait. First, listen to connect and understand. Your time for rebuttal will come. When it does, confirm what you heard. If you’re still muddy, ask the speaker to put things another way, until you are clear.

Business leaders should model good listening, and when discussions go awry, intervene to reestablish understanding. Once able to communicate on a deeper level, your people will function more efficiently and effectively together. Good listening lifts the limits on human communication and establishes a culture of respect and unity. That’s a pillar of strength that your business cannot afford to do without.