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Win by listening

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Kingston Lampley
  • 99th Air Refueling Squadron commander
We have all been there - while planning the next vacation, daydreaming, or thinking about getting the mission accomplished a co-worker or a loved one says, "Are you listening? What did I just say?"

If you're wise, your answer shouldn't be, "Yeah, you said 'blah, blah, blah... .' "

The aforementioned scenario shows that listening skills are important to effectiveness both in our professional and personal endeavors. Too often in our society people just don't listen and therefore pay the consequences. We tend to treat every communication as a session of verbal judo - we wait in silent anticipation for our chance to speak so we can spew our pre-packaged talking points without really listening to what the other person wants to communicate.

If we're clever or forceful enough with our retort we might "win" the debate. However, what is truly "won?" You probably weren't even arguing about the same topic because you weren't listening to the other person in the first place.

I'll make the case for why actually listening to others strengthens relationships, both personal and professional. I will then give a few pointers for effective listening.

By strengthening relationships, we foster an environment for people in our organizations and families to perform well. When people perform well we truly "win."

Listen well in order to succeed in your family life. Your loved ones are more than worthy of the limited time you share with them after you give the Air Force what is necessary to accomplish the mission. Use it wisely. When you don't listen to your loved ones, they feel devalued. When they feel devalued, your relationship suffers - or worse, ceases to exist. Don't allow that to happen. After all, what's important in life are those relationships - much more than the rank, position or wealth that you accumulate in your career. A well-functioning, loving family where everyone feels valued is an attainable goal which starts with LISTENING to your loved ones.

The payoff for your personal life is love and understanding. What is the benefit professionally?

I realize that this article is getting a little "touchy-feely" for a military audience, but stick with me.

Why listen to your subordinates? You're not listening because you want them to make decisions for you, you're listening because they're the ones "doing the work." They stand a better chance of equipping you with data you need if they feel you are listening to what they are trying to convey.

People can tell when you aren't listening. When you don't listen, coworkers, like family members, feel devalued and lose motivation to work hard for you. Listen to your people. Our Air Force will be better off if we learn to listen better.

Now that we know why listening is important, here are a few pointers to make you a better listener:

1. Get rid of electronic devices when you are listening. Put your phone on vibrate or turn it off when someone is in your office. E-mail and voice messages were invented so that you could stand to miss a call. Show your people that they are important. The same goes for your family. Digital video recorders are great for allowing you to listen to your loved ones in the present and catch the programming that you would like to watch later.

2. Don't interrupt the speaker. You were born with one mouth and two ears for a reason; use your ears more than your mouth.

3. Be cognizant of non-verbal cues. I have heard that up to 85 percent of communication is non-verbal. Meaning we should listen with our eyes, too. With this skill you can even listen when you are talking. Also, be mindful of the non-verbal signals you are communicating. You can have honey flowing from your mouth and vinegar communicated by your body language. Don't be self-conscious, as it makes you appear to be insincere and robotic. Relax and be aware of your non-verbal signals.
It all comes down to listening. Listen to your people. Listen to your loved ones. Listening will make you more effective both personally and professionally. Effective listening establishes an environment of success for motivated people, the life-blood of our organization and families. Our culture does not make us effective listeners, so force yourself to be one.

Don't be afraid to have your positions challenged. You might not "win" the verbal judo match--but is that really the goal?