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December 2017
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Our listening skills are getting worse.

The red light on your desk phone is blinking. Eleven more e-mails just popped up. Meanwhile, the CFO is demanding an explanation of your budget request, and your biggest supplier missed a critical delivery deadline. And where is the Help Desk to fix that technical glitch you complained about yesterday?

Dianna, one of your direct reports, knocks on your door frame and says, “I really need your help.”

You wave her in as you read e-mails. She sits and starts talking. You nod and keep reading e-mails. You glance up at her—to let her know you’re paying attention—before checking a text that just showed up on your smart phone. “I trust your judgment,” you say to Dianna, who turns to leave. She seems disappointed about something, but you don’t have time to worry about that right now.

If you work in anything resembling an office, you’ve probably lived that scenario, maybe even from Dianna’s perspective. If so, you know Dianna felt like the least important person in the building just now. In fact, she felt less important than a text message. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal indicated that our collective listening skills are getting worse.  There are too many things demanding out attention, too much technology bombarding us with information, and listen falls by the wayside.

We all know listening skill is a required leadership competency. If you’re not an empathic person, the good news is that listening skills can be learned. But listening is more than technique. To master it, you must choose to be fully present. That means no text reading, no e-mail checking, and no daydreaming about that budget request or software glitch. It means focusing on the speaker and her words, body language, and emotions, not on what you plan to say next. Be generous in giving your time and suspending your preconceptions. Only then can you and the speaker create a shared understanding.

Successful managers want their employees to feel valued and motivated, and listening to them is essential to fostering that feeling. So why is listening so often the first thing kicked to the bottom of the priority list? You can begin to change that bad habit by getting organized and eliminating your harried work pace, because if you’re zapped, you have nothing left for anyone else.

When engaging your direct reports, leave your cell phone behind and find a quiet place to talk. Ask questions, and don’t worry about having all the answers. By mastering listening, you may just find your employees have a lot of the answers you are looking for. You may even find they are the key to eliminating the chaos described earlier.

At Caliper, we are experts in listening. Our Organizational Development Consultants provide executive coaching and can facilitate many other programs designed to help you and your management staff become better, more active, and present listeners. You’d be amazed at the unprecedented levels of engagement and commitment demonstrated by employees when your company embraces a listening culture and they discover that their voices truly matter.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Caliper.