Two ears, one mouth

My old boss used to say “we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in those proportions.”    As well as being anatomically correct, he was making the point that we don’t do enough listening in the workplace.    It’s a core human skill and it requires no training, so why don’t we do it enough?   Here’s a story to demonstrate why it matters.   Some years ago I was carrying out a communications audit at a health trust in Liverpool.     Part of my brief was to talk to staff and find out what they thought about communication at the organisation.  One of the frustrations of management was that the staff were not showing a great deal of excitement about a forthcoming relocation to a new ‘state of the art’ office complex not far away and it was impacting their engagement on other business issues.    Why was this?   The existing offices were a sprawling campus of old Victorian buildings and cold, featureless pre-fabricated buildings.   The new complex was just up the road, newly built, decked out with the latest technology and able to accommodate everyone in one place for the first time.   Who wouldn’t be engaged with the idea?    So I asked the managers how they’d communicated the relocation to staff?   The response was something like this (I paraphrase a little, but not much):   “We made it clear that the new hi-tech offices will enable us to take the organisation into the 21st Century, leverage synergies and realise the benefits of cross-functional working in a dynamic and flexible environment.”    Mmmm.   So I went into one of the cold, damp prefabs, found a team of gritty Liverpudlian school nurses and asked one of them what they thought of the proposed move.   The response?  “Can I take my kettle?”  I beg your pardon, I replied.   “That kettle in the corner, we use it to brew up and to make our soup at lunchtime.  We’re worried we might not be able to take it.”   It turned out no-one had bothered to find out what was on the mind of the staff.  No-one had asked what their concerns were.  The leaders just assumed they’d be all for it.   They were OK about the move in theory but were generally hacked off about the fact that they hadn’t been involved in any part of the planning.   Nobody had asked them about ‘the little things’ – seating plans, car parking, cafe options, naming the building, bus routes … kettles.   Nobody asked, and nobody listened.   So they put the shutters up.   The message?  Engage with me on my agenda before you ask me to engage with you on yours.

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  1. Pingback: Why listen? – how to be a good listener

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