There’s No Place Like #StayHome: Week 4 – The Primary Importance of Active Listening

Finding Work & Life Balance in 2020….

Video conferencing and collaboration tools have long been available, however culture and processes are still catching up with the true potential. The current pandemic is shining a light on how mature organizations are at digital collaboration. Leaders who realize that these tools are not replacements for in-person meetings, but can be a fly-wheel for innovation, agility, effectiveness and efficiency.

Organizations must walk before they run: Right now, leaders must model and communicate the importance of extreme “active listening” skills. ActiveListen2

  1. Look at who is talking. Video conferencing is amazing, but very few have premier audio-video setups at home. The UX on most solutions (i.e. Zoom, Skype) give visual cues on speakers. It takes more work to focus on a small face on a screen that a live person at a table. Also, during audio-only conference calls “looking at” means “seriously listen to” the speaker.  
  2. Visualize what is being said. Particularly in audio-only calls, visualize what the person is saying. If you know the person, picture their face in your mind. Whether you know the person or not, visualize their words. For example, if someone is describing a new process, perhaps picture a corresponding flowchart in your mind.
  3. Ask questions. Be curious. Check for understanding. “Sharon, I just want to be sure I have the 5 changes to this invoice correctly…” “Ben, confirming you got the approval from finance.”
  4. Pay attention. We all went from being in conference rooms or on calls when most other family members or roommates were at school or work. Now, even if we are used to remote work, children, pets, other adults in the same home combine for different distractions. Some of the distractions are welcome and encouraged – the cat who wants to sit next the keyboard, the child with a toy on a parent’s lap. It reminds us we’re all in this together and can bring a spark of joy to the day. However, we must also be mindful of the difference between brief, cheerful distractions and the inability to pay attention for an extended period of time – so shuffle the agenda or even reschedule! The key is pay attention when everyone can, flex with empathy when people can’t.
  5. Do not interrupt. Interrupting in any situation is not advisable, even downright rude. Every meeting should have a leader and/or facilitator who quells interruptions, or if a topic is running wild, can politely interject & re-direct the conversation. (And being at the top of an organization chart does not give you license to interrupt.)
  6. Include everyone. Make sure everyone has a chance to weigh in. “Maria, are you in agreement with the decision on the network equipment?” “Karl, you’ve met with this customer before, do you have an opinion on how to handle this issue?” The leader of the meeting is accountable for inclusion.
  7. Interviewing remotely? First, do video whenever possivle. Check for candidate’s active listening skills. Are they consistently displaying body language that indicates listening – eye contact, leaning forward? Do they (briefly) pause before responding, to show they are preparing to respond after you are finished speaking, as opposed to launching right into an answer? Are they asking clarifying questions that demonstrate they were paying attention?

Leaders, now is the time to consider publishing active listening guidelines.

Next up: The Digital Collaboration Maturity Curve.

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