Listening in Professional Contexts
Listening and organizational-communication scholars note that listening is one of the most neglected aspects of organizational-communication research.Jan Flynn, Tuula-Riitta Valikoski, and Jennie Grau, “Listening in the Business Context: Reviewing the State of Research,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 143. Aside from a lack of research, a study also found that business schools lack curriculum that includes instruction and/or training in communication skills like listening in their master of business administration (MBA) programs.Ron Alsop, Wall Street Journal-Eastern Edition240, no. 49 (2002): R4. This lack of a focus on listening persists, even though we know that more effective listening skills have been shown to enhance sales performance and that managers who exhibit good listening skills help create open communication climates that can lead to increased feelings of supportiveness, motivation, and productivity.Jan Flynn, Tuula-Riitta Valikoski, and Jennie Grau, “Listening in the Business Context: Reviewing the State of Research,” The International Journal of Listening 22 (2008): 144–46. Specifically, empathetic listening and active listening can play key roles in organizational communication. Managers are wise to enhance their empathetic listening skills, as being able to empathize with employees contributes to a positive communication climate. Active listening among organizational members also promotes involvement and increases motivation, which leads to more cohesion and enhances the communication climate.
Organizational scholars have examined various communication climates specific to listening. Listening environment refers to characteristics and norms of an organization and its members that contribute to expectations for and perceptions about listening.Judi Brownell, “Listening Environment: A Perspective,” in Perspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 243. Positive listening environments are perceived to be more employee centered, which can improve job satisfaction and cohesion. But how do we create such environments?
Positive listening environments are facilitated by the breaking down of barriers to concentration, the reduction of noise, the creation of a shared reality (through shared language, such as similar jargon or a shared vision statement), intentional spaces that promote listening, official opportunities that promote listening, training in listening for all employees, and leaders who model good listening practices and praise others who are successful listeners.Judi Brownell, “Listening Environment: A Perspective,” inPerspectives on Listening, eds. Andrew D. Wolvin and Carolyn Gwynn Coakley (Norwood, NJ: Alex Publishing Corporation, 1993), 245–54. Policies and practices that support listening must go hand in hand. After all, what does an “open-door” policy mean if it is not coupled with actions that demonstrate the sincerity of the policy?
Becoming a “Listening Leader”
Dr. Rick Bommelje has popularized the concept of the “listening leader.”Listen-Coach.com, Dr. Rick Listen-Coach, accessed July 13, 2012, http://www.listen-coach.com. As a listening coach, he offers training and resources to help people in various career paths increase their listening competence. For people who are very committed to increasing their listening skills, the International Listening Association has now endorsed a program to become a Certified Listening Professional (CLP), which entails advanced independent study, close work with a listening mentor, and the completion of a written exam.“CLP Training Program,” International Listening Assocation, accessed July 13, 2012,http://www.listen.org/CLPFAQs. There are also training programs to help with empathetic listening that are offered through the Compassionate Listening Project.“Training,” The Compassionate Listening Project, accessed July 13, 2012,http://www.compassionatelistening.org/trainings. These programs evidence the growing focus on the importance of listening in all professional contexts.
Scholarly research has consistently shown that listening ability is a key part of leadership in professional contexts and competence in listening aids in decision making. A survey sent to hundreds of companies in the United States found that poor listening skills create problems at all levels of an organizational hierarchy, ranging from entry-level positions to CEOs.Owen Hargie,Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 178.Leaders such as managers, team coaches, department heads, and executives must be versatile in terms of listening type and style in order to adapt to the diverse listening needs of employees, clients/customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
Even if we don’t have the time or money to invest in one of these professional-listening training programs, we can draw inspiration from the goal of becoming a listening leader. By reading this book, you are already taking an important step toward improving a variety of communication competencies, including listening, and you can always take it upon yourself to further your study and increase your skills in a particular area to better prepare yourself to create positive communication climates and listening environments. You can also use these skills to make yourself a more desirable employee.
- Make a list of the behaviors that you think a listening leader would exhibit. Which of these do you think you do well? Which do you need to work on?
- What do you think has contributed to the perceived shortage of listening skills in professional contexts?
- Given your personal career goals, what listening skills do you think you will need to possess and employ in order to be successful?