Working Wounded: Listening Better

D E A R   W O U N D E D: Recently I was criticized for not being a good listener. I was shocked. But I do want to learn how to listen better, can you tell me how?

A N S W E R: Ever heard of "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy"? It's an entire book full of misheard song lyrics. For example, there is "I'll never leave your pizza burning" (actual Rolling Stones lyric, "I'll never be your beast of burden"). And the Beatles didn't sing, "The girl with colitis goes by" (it was "The girl with kaleidoscope eyes"). Finally there wasn't "Sweet dreams are made of cheese" from the Eurythmics (there was, however, "sweet dreams are made of this").

It's funny until you realize how multitasking, stress or just not paying attention lead many of us down the same path of misheard information. I've included tips to help you avoid this problem and to listen better. For more, check out Dorothy Leeds' book The 7 Powers of Questions. (Perigree, 2000)

Do you listen to what they're saying? I admit I'm guilty of putting more energy into fashioning my response than listening to what someone else is saying to me. Ironically, the more you listen to what they say the easier it will be to respond.

Do you listen for their intent? Joe Torre, the manager of the NY Yankees, once observed that he never just looks at what his players say when they're quoted in the newspaper. He tries to sort out why they're saying it. What is their emotional state as they're talking to you? Are they trusting and forthcoming? Or guarded and defensive? Sure the words that they use are important, but they're often only a small part of what is being communicated to you.

Do you listen to learn? The best ideas have a funny way of coming from the most unlikely sources. That's why it's so important to be open to learning from anyone that you talk to. In fact, there is a new trend in organizations called Reverse Mentoring; where executives are mentored by the younger staff at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. This helps to ground them in the reality of working on the front lines and can be a great reminder of how things really work, or don't, far from the position of power and privilege.

Do you show them that you're listening? Maintaining eye contact, nodding and restating key points are simple ways to show the other person that you're listening. And if you don't think this is important, think about the last time that you talked to someone who was looking around the room like they were scouting for someone better to talk to; did this make you energized to talk to them?

Back to the song lyrics, who can forget, "I look at your and the patient dies" (actual lyric from P.M. Dawn, "I look at you with patient eyes"). Learn how to listen better and the patient won't die and people will actually be more patient with you.

Online Ballot and Contest

Here are the results from a recent online ballot: Which best describes your experiences with e-mail?

I don't e-mail period, 2.5 percent I e-mail but I'm paranoid about it, 28.5 percent I hit send and let the chips fall where they may, 30.6 percent I don't e-mail anything important, 38.2 prcent

Winning Strategy

Our winning strategy for handling sensitive topics in e-mail comes from SC in Cyberspace. "I simply don't handle sensitive subjects via e-mail — it's the electronic equivalent of shouting out of your window at someone across the street. You simply don't know who else is "listening." I've also learned not to use sarcasm, irony, or joking — all are subject to misinterpretation when being read. In short, treat your e-mail as though your boss, manager, or mother-in-law were reading over your shoulder. If you can't speak to someone directly about a sensitive subject, then you've got no business speaking to them about it at all."

List of the Week

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. His newest best seller, GRAY MATTERS: The Workplace Survival Guide (Wiley, 2004), is a business comic book that trades cynicism for solutions. Ask Bob a question: or publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday.