Saturday, November 11, 2006


The first constructive criticism I received in my new job was that I needed to listen more. My boss praised me on my perceptions, but said that some of my co-workers felt I didn't listen closely to them when they were talking. He recommended that I actively force myself to step back after a colleague made a statement, repeat it in my head and take a moment before I responded.
The advice surprised me, because I had considered myself to be a good listener. But this week I have been paying attention to my listening patterns -- following the listening test I took at seminar last weekend -- and I'm surprised by how much and how easily I tune out.
The test showed that I am primarily an "evaluative" listener: I listen for facts, try to figure out what the speaker is saying, argue in my mind if I don't like the message, and ultimately tune out if it doesn't interest me.
Well, damned if that isn't exactly what I do.
As instructed by the homework assignment this week -- and of course, just by life -- I listened to a sales presentation (a webcast on a Business Intelligence technology), a colleague (my boss, actually) and my wife.
In the first two cases, the sessions were lengthy, and, while I was interested in the subject matter, I found it difficult to pay full attention after a while. Note: These were both phone conversations, so I did not have the visual stimulus of the speaker's facial expressions and proximity to deal with. Because I was paying closer attention to my listening patterns than I normally would, I noticed that it didn't take long for me to become impatient, to want to "skip ahead," to bypass the storytelling and get to the point. Based on the reading I did and the instructions of my homework assignment, I did my best to stay focused on the speaker. Although it would have been easy to "multi-task" -- or, more accurately, to stop paying attention to the speaker and do something else, such as checking e-mail, I forced myself not to do so. But here's what I found myself doing: Pacing, looking out the window, glancing here and there.
Each time I caught myself doing this, I forced my focus back on the speaker. As I said, I was interested in the subject matter in both cases, so I did try to keep track of where the speaker was going. But it was hard to stay focused.
Looking back on both meetings, I can see that in addition to listening in an evaluative mode, I was also listening for comprehension. I was trying to get the "big picture" of what the speaker was trying to say. And, of course, I always listen for a joke or an entertaining anecdote, so I perked up on those. That maps to appreciative listening.
In listening to my wife, what I found interesting is that I think she has learned to speak to me in ways that play to my listening modes. Since my wife, like me, tracks most strongly to evaluative listening, I think we have learned to talk to each other in ways that we know the other will listen to. Our conversations tend to be relatively short and to-the-point. It's not that we are abrupt, it's that we focus on the topic when we talk to each other. After 22 years together, I guess that makes perfect sense.
Interesting exercise.