Win by Listening

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- We have all been there--while you are planning your next vacation, otherwise daydreaming, or thinking about how you're going to squeeze "blood from a turnip" to get the mission accomplished--you hear your co-worker or loved one say: "Are you listening? What did I just say?" If you're wise, your answer better not be "Yeah, you said "blah, blah, blah..." The aforementioned scenario shows that listening skills are important to be effective both in your professional and personal endeavors. Too often, in our society, people just don't listen. We tend to treat every communication as a session of verbal judo--we wait in silence (not listening--usually thinking of other things) for our chance to speak so we can spew our pre-packaged talking points. If we're clever, or forceful enough with our barbs, we can "win" the debate. But, what did you really "win?" You probably weren't even arguing about the same thing because you weren't listening to the other person, anyway. I'll make the case for why actually listening to others strengthens relationships (personal and professional), then I will give a few pointers for effective listening.

By strengthening relationships, we foster an environment for people in our organizations/families to perform well. Thus, when people perform well--we really "win."

Listen well in order to succeed in your family life. Your loved ones are more than worthy of the limited time you are able to give them after you give the Air Force its cut. 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, that's what's important in life--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 a lofty, yet, attainable goal which begins with LISTENING to your loved ones. That's the payoff for your personal life.

What about professionally?

I realize that this article is getting a little "touchy-feely" for a military audience--but stick with me. Why listen to your people? I get it--this is the military--we do what we're told. You're not listening because you want them to make decisions for you. You're listening because they are the ones "doing the work" so they stand a better chance of equipping you with data for you to arrive at the optimal solution. People can tell when you aren't listening. Like your family members, when you don't listen--they feel devalued, thus, will not be motivated 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. Put your phone on vibrate/turn the ringer down when someone is in your office. That's what e-mail and voice messages are for. Show your people that they are important. Same for your family. DVRs work great for allowing you to listen to your loved ones.
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% of communication is non-verbal. Thus, listen with your eyes, too. So, with this skill, you can even listen when you are talking. You can have honey flowing from your mouth and vinegar communicated through your body language. Don't be self-conscious. That will make you appear to be insincere and robotic. Relax, but be aware of your non-verbal signals.

In conclusion--listen to people. Effective listening will set the environment for motivated people who are the life-blood of our organizations/families. Our culture does not make us good listeners, but force yourself to do so. Don't be afraid to have your positions challenged. You might not "win" the verbal judo match--but is that really the goal?
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