Are you listening? Can you hear me?

Nobody’s Listening: Are you there leaders? It’s me, your attention.


By Aoife Donovan Lee, Personal & Executive Coaching Psychologist




When was the last time you listened to someone? I mean, practised the skill of active listening where you stopped what you were doing, physically turned towards them (or did the video call equivalent), ignored any thoughts that kept popping into your head, resisted the urge to interrupt the other person and mindfully tuned in to what they were saying without passing judgement?


Unless you’re in a profession that pays you to actively listen, you’re probably not doing it that often. And you’re not alone.


In today’s Zoom-fatigued world it’s easy for Information Communication Technology (ICT) workers to be distracted by that incoming beep of a new email. You may start a meeting intending to listen to all participants but then you remember that virtual pile of work that you need to continuously chip away at during your back-to-back calls. So then you resort to multi-tasking, frequently switching between screens while half listening to the speaker on the call. After all, how can people tell that you’re replying to emails during a meeting? Can you tell when someone is not listening to you during a call? What makes us think that we are Oscar-worthy actors when it comes to pretending to listen but when someone does it to us, we can categorically tell straight away.


As human beings, we are attuned to the giveaway signs that tell us we are not being listened to. There are micro-expressions that you have almost no control over. For example, you blink more when you’re not listening; your eye contact is not natural; you give too many physical nods; you leave too long a pause when the other person is awaiting a response; you’re not giving listening affirmations, or you’re giving generic ones like “mm-hmm” that sound false; you’re not asking questions; you’re not paraphrasing to confirm understanding, and finally, the glare from your screen flashes from dark to light across your face as you switch tabs. Still think you haven’t been found out?


People perform better and produce invaluable ideas when they are listened to and given the time and space to think for themselves. As a leader, you have the opportunity to give the gift of a quality thinking environment to each of your team members. Don’t make active listening a luxury for people that only money can buy. Challenge yourself today. Practice active listening with at least one person and reap the rewards of the quality of your attention.


Try this during your next virtual interaction:


1.    Close all unnecessary tabs.
2.    Place your phone on silent and out of sight.
3.    Maintain eye contact in a way that feels natural to you.
4.    As the person is speaking, thoughts will come to your mind of other things. Ignore them and bring yourself back to the present moment and what the person is saying. This will happen a lot. Keep practising and it will get easier. 
5.    Ask questions to encourage the person to talk more. 
6.    Paraphrase what they’ve said to confirm understanding. 
7.    Summarise what they’ve said to show them that you have been listening. 



What wonderful ideas will they come up with? Take the pressure off yourself, feeling like you always have to come up with the solutions. Who knows, some of that virtual workload may start to take care of itself if you listen to somebody today. 




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