That's Not What I Heard
As some of you may know, I recently underwent rotator cuff surgery. Although not the most pleasant experience, I'm pleased to say, "So far so good." However, before making an affirmative decision to undergo the surgery, I did a lot of research and talked with a lot of people. Since I consider myself one who is "in the know" (so to speak), I thought I had all the bases covered -- especially after the surgeon told me I had a 90 to 95 percent chance of getting back to 100 percent within a year. Feeling pretty confident with the odds, the surgery moved forward.
Well, after six months of rehabilitation, and much to my surprise, I was only able to curl a 15-pound dumbbell with my right arm (although I must admit even the one-pound dumbbell was hard at first). I asked the physical therapist, "When will I get my strength back so I can go back to my 60-pound dumbbell curls?" Her instant response was one of hysterical laughing. After composing herself, she wanted to know where I would ever get an idea like that? I explained to her that the surgeon told me I had a 90 to 95 percent chance of getting back to 100 percent capacity within a year.
The therapist explained that the quoted percentages referred to one's range of motion and physical activities, not body strength. She also explained that when muscles are cut and repaired, as in my case, rebuilding strength must begin from scratch. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.
My point in telling you this is not to obtain sympathy or tell you how strong I "used to be" (although I do have some power lifting trophies engraved with my name from my high school/college days). My point is that during the process of "listening," each of us can hear things either differently or not at all in some cases.
It has been said that listening is the first act of communication. To listen well requires time, energy, patience and sincere compassion for the communicant. Therefore, one can surmise that listening is hard work, which may explain why it's a rare commodity. In fact, if you are really listening intently, you should feel tired upon completion of the speaker's dialogue. So, it is fair to say that effective listening is an active, rather than a passive, activity.
There is an article on listening in which a seventh-grade teacher stated, "Listening skills have sadly deteriorated." She noticed a drop off through the years for a number of reasons, and feels if listening skills are not adequately developed during school years, individuals may have a difficult time in the modern workplace. This, to me, sounds like a good reason for us to start listening. Another important statement this teacher made was "while computers have changed the world, they don't help listening skills." She then went on to say while it is fine for children to work on computers, they fail to hear verbal orders and this could create difficulties. She further commented how few students can follow commands that require them to do three or four tasks in succession.
Now are you listening? Here are four key elements of good listening:
Hear the message -- both the verbal and non-verbal information. The most important point here is to pay attention, get rid of all behaviors that block effective listening, such as: non-listening, wanting my turn, anxiety, advice giving and the "me too" syndrome (just to name a few).
Interpret the message. This might be the hardest skill of listening, as no two people perceive a message in the same way. To help clear up the message, ask questions (specifics) as to your understanding of the message. My asking the surgeon what exactly she meant by a 100 percent recovery surely would have cleared up my misunderstanding. An important point here is if you are unsure of the message, ask more questions to clarify your interpretation.
Evaluate the message. Summarize by pulling together the threads of what has been said in a way that separates the wheat of the meaning from the chaff of the conversation. This confirms understanding of the message.
Respond to the message. Give the speaker an appropriate response both verbally and/or non-verbally. Doing this will ensure the message was heard, understood and appropriately evaluated.
If memory serves me well, there was a line from the movie "Cool Hand Luke" which went something like, "Gentlemen, what we have here is a failure to communicate." Since communication is key to all relationships with people (including customers, employees and bosses, as well as every aspect in our home and work lives), odds are everyone could benefit from better communication skills. Keep in mind, hearing becomes listening only when you pay attention to what is said and follow it very closely. Simply put, it is extremely difficult to receive information when your mouth is moving information out at the same time.
Robert Milner is Associate Director of Parking at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has been in the private sector as a senior manager with Penn Parking and Central Parking. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Side Bar 1
Four Keys to Listening
1. Hear the Message.
2. Interpret the Message.
3. Evaluate the Message.
4. Respond to the Message
Article Abstract from March, 2003