When the talking stops

When communication fails we’re quick to blame those who didn’t talk.

If we want people to talk we need to be prepared to listen, having an “open door” policy isn’t enough.  Being present in the same office isn’t enough.  Working from home isn’t the reason for poor communication.

At its basic level communication is a message sent by one person and received by another.  In successful communication the message received is the same as the message delivered, the message is understood.  So simple, and yet so often it fails.

If we feel we are not being listened to, we are going to stop talking.  We feel we’re not being listened to when the listeners body language is closed, when we haven’t got their full attention.  We’ll equally feel not listened to when we’re met with silence or disinterest, when the conversation isn’t flowing and our thoughts don’t feel welcomed. We may feel the listener heard what they wanted to rather than what we actually said.

Without a willingness to listen there will be no communication.

Listening requires us to focus on the person talking, to smile, nod, ask questions, summerise and clarify, share our view on the topic.  All these things can happen face to face, over the phone, even in typed messages.  Clearly face to face we have body language, we may have to work a little harder on the phone or in typed messages, but it’s all possible if we want to listen.

As a listener we need to give the speaker confidence to trust us.  Trust requires demonstration, it’s something that builds with experience but can quickly be broken.  If we hear you sharing office gossip we’re going to be careful about what we tell you.  Equally we may have had a bad experience in the past, employers often wonder why new recruits don’t mention a disability but if you’ve been discriminated against in the past of course you’ll be reluctant to share.

Listening doesn’t always mean agreeing, but it does mean respecting. If we’ve been belittled, ignored, shown disinterest or cut off in the past we’re going to think twice about talking again.  If you’re wondering why someone isn’t sharing information with you now, consider how you responded to them previously.

When I hear of breakdowns in communication in the workplace, it is usually expressed as “they are not communicating” or “they are keeping things to themselves”.  The answer requires a step back and to ask “why. Is it possible they didn’t feel listened to so gave up talking?


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