Obstacles to Listening

By Emily Glaser

In this modern, digital age, listening is quickly becoming a dying art. With our eyes and thumbs constantly distracted by texts, emails, phone calls, messages and social media, its becoming increasingly difficult to simply listen. Despite the challenges of listening in a modern world, most of us still believe were actually good listeners. In a recent survey by Accenture, nearly every respondent believed themselves to be a good listenereven though twothirds also admitted genuinely listening has become difficult in a digital age.
This seeming contradictionthe alleged conviction that youre a good listener, despite your acknowledgement that listening well is a nearimpossible taskis progressively problematic in retail environments, especially from a leadership perspective.
One of the most unwavering fundamentals of successful leadership is being a great listener. When you listen well, others listen to you. By listening attentively, you not only prove that you care about what that person has to say, you demonstrate your devotion to your job and the task at handanother key to leadership.
Even if you can admit that youre not the best listener, how do you get better? The first step is to understand the obstacles to good listening. We can guaranteed that youve been guilty of oneor allof these poor listening habits:
1.     Multitasking.
Multitasking may be the main culprit in the war on listening in a digital age. We all seem to believe that only we are capable of multitasking and listening well; well check our email during conference calls, reply to a text during a business meeting, or even glance periodically at our phones during a oneonone with an employee; every one of these activities is distracting you from listening well, and if youre face to face with someone, its also a rude act that shows the speaker you dont care about what they have to say. Its scientifically proven that multitasking reduces our effectiveness in all tasks, including listening. Put down the device and distractions and listening will come more easily.
2.     Interrupting.
When youre listening to a story, its almost a natural instinct to voice your own opinions or similar experiences. Maybe you want to prove that youre listening by responding; maybe youre afraid youll forget your idea if you dont voice it right away; maybe youre trying to connect with the speaker; or maybe you simply dont care about the subject and you want to redirect the conversation and take control. Regardless of your reason for interrupting, its one of the easiest ways to stop listening. To the speaker, its obvious that you think what you have to say is more important than their own speech.
3.     Interpreting and Assumptions.
Quite often, we misinterpret what someones saying simply because we expect them to say something else. From the first word we stop listening because we assume we know whats coming next, with the end effect of completely misinterpreting the entire conversation. Rather than assume you know whats coming next, genuinely pause and listen to the real words being said. Its easy to hear things through our own, personal filters, but we get the most from a conversation if we put that filter aside.
4.     Body Language & Response.
We all know that our body language is an important communication tool when were speaking, but sometimes we forget that its just as important when were listening. Fidgeting, indirect eye contact, and similar signals show the speaker that were not listening well. Similarly, if your response to their words is completely off topic or unrelated, its also a giveaway that youre not listening. Actively listen and direct all your attention to the speakerboth physically and mentally.
5.     Internal Monologue.
Even if you try your hardest to devote yourself to listening, there can be an additional hurdle to overcome: your own internal monologue. The first step to quieting your own thoughts is to be aware of them. Acknowledge that youre listening to yourself, rather than the conversation, and purposefully choose to direct your attention to the conversation.
Once you understand these obstacles to listening, youll begin to recognize your own bad listening habits, at which point you can overhaul your listening style. Listening intentionally and focusing on the conversation will earn you the respect and attention you deserve.
We know that even once you recognize these obstacles to listening, sometimes its truly impossible to concentrate on the conversation. Perhaps youre in the middle of a big project, or youre preparing for an important meetingregardless of the situation, you know you wont be able to concentrate and listen well. Rather than distractedly halflistening, offer an alternative time to meet and discuss this topic; by deliberately rescheduling the conversation for later, you prove that you genuinely want to listen and consider what they have to say.
Listening well is one of the most important skills a welldeveloped leader can have in their arsenal. When you listen to your employees, you prove that you genuinely care about their opinions, their jobs, and your store. This skill can be transferred elsewhere, as wellin fact, its one of the keys to excellent salesmanship. By recognizing and acknowledging your own obstacles to listening, youve already improved as a listener. Theres no such thing as a perfect listener, or a perfect leader, but you can choose to make every day, and every conversation, a little better than the last.

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