How I Learned to Listen
by Sally Perkins
(Half Moon Bay, California, U.S.)
After reading a few stories on Self-Help Collective, I knew I had to share mine too.
My grandfather always said to me, when he sat me on his knee and told me stories, that it doesn’t matter how well you run and walk, it’s how you pick yourself up after you fall over that matters. I always thought he meant literally walking and running, but after he passed, and over time, I realized he meant something more profound than that.
This realization came at my lowest point. Fresh out of university, I thought I knew it all - I had the theories and the jargon memorized, and I talked my way into become a HR Manager at a young, vibrant start up hell bent on expanding. It seemed so positive, so bright and light, and the people were lovely, but I didn’t know what I was doing…
And I fell flat on my face. It was so bad that if I had actually fallen flat on my face in the office it would have hurt less. I cried. I ate ice cream, cookies, cried some more and got more ice cream, and yes, I thought about quitting my job and going to work in McDonald’s.
But then I saw my grandfather’s photo and remembered what he said. It made me realize that I could pick myself up and turn things around. It was a learning experience. One which all newbies go through in anything realm, and if that’s all it takes to derail our lives, then we are made of pretty flimsy stuff (ironically poor design undid the company in the end).
Let’s rewind then and look at the key problems. I lacked wisdom and experience, but so did most of the people in the company - it was young and youth obsessed. It thought energy and vitality outdid actually knowing things. Well, I could solve that problem easily enough, I spoke to my old professors and Googled some mentoring schemes and got myself someone who could pass on their advice and knowledge.
The real problem though was that for all my studies and jargon, I did not know the right skills to do the job properly. In thinking it over to myself one night, I decided that the most important one was listening. I just did not listen to them properly - I was waiting for them to finish, so I could interject with some banal piece of doctrinal claptrap. This is the piece of wisdom that I want to pass on - we can become better people, and yes, better managers and HR execs if we listen to people more and listen to them in the right way. Here’s a few things I learned about how to be a better listener:
- Be an active listener - this means not only hearing the words people say, but pay attention to their nonverbal actions and mannerisms too. Do bear in mind that some people, such as those on the autism spectrum, may act differently than others.
- Focus on them and do not multitask - this means putting down the phone or turning off the computer while you speak to them. Do not dilute your attention span with other information or you’ll make a mistake, cross a wire or miss something out.
- Do not let tangents derail you - it can be easy to get sidetracked, but even if their story goes to other places, bring it back to the core element needing to be discussed. This needs to include directly addressing their concerns.
- Misunderstandings can happen, but do your bess to avoid them. If you are confused about any point in your conversation, ask questions to clarify. Be wary too of selective hearing - try not to hear what you want to hear, but what is actually said.
- Most importantly of all, be patient. These things take time and can work out in their own ways. Try not to jump into the conversation, but give the employee the time they need to say what they want to say.
It took me a while to properly practice what I’m not preaching - I won’t lie. There were setbacks and the odd misunderstanding, but active and attentative listening will work better than any stylish fad or notion. This works especially for being a HR Manager, which I was able to do for a decade, but also as a wife, a mother, and even as a dog owner.