Oscar-Winning Film, The Artist, Inspires Us to Really Listen
At 100 minutes, the Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Artist, may be the ultimate practice session for improving your listening skills. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that it’s a silent movie – an extraordinary resource for training to listen with your eyes and zoning in on non-verbal cues.
Watching this brilliant black and white film requires fixed focus on the actors – their facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements – to fully comprehend the storyline.
And the same applies when it comes to communication at the office.
According to various studies, 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours are spent engaged in some form of communication. Surprisingly, listening claims the lion share of that time – 45 percent – followed by 30 percent spent on speaking, 16 percent on reading and 9 percent on writing. Yet, listening malaise is rampant in companies today.
“My supervisor does not listen. He has a superiority complex and insists subordinate must be wrong. You have to screw up to get listened to.” That’s a real comment from an employee focus session that my firm recently conducted at a leading organization.
We also heard: “My boss is a talker and it is hard to get a word in. Listening and communication skills are not good.” And, the converse comment:“My manager is a great communicator. She listens and knows employees. She listens if you need to go into her office and talk to her. She will listen as long as you talk.”
As you can see from these actual employee comments, good listening skills are the key to being a great leader. Through my firm’s research, we’ve found that employees identify “good listener” in the top three qualities of a manager they’d most like to work for.
Unfortunately, that skill set is underdeveloped. In my work with a Fortune 50 company, the communication disconnect between executives and front-line associates was so severe that we created a new process entirely focused on listening to bridge the gap.
Branded as “listening sessions,” these informal meetings united a senior level executive with 15 front-line employees from diverse business areas for open dialogue. Gone was the hefty presentation deck that drove traditional communication forums in this organization. Instead, the employees selected to receive advance information about a specific topic to be addressed at the session. They were tasked to come prepared to share their views and those of co-workers about the topic.
Logistics for listening sessions were carefully crafted. The meeting room was located on floors or in work areas removed from executive offices. The room was outfitted with a round table, rather than a boardroom-style table, to create a setting of equal ground. The session lasted an hour, and 80 percent of that time was spent with the leader listening to the feedback of employees. The leader came to the meeting armed with only three things: A notebook and pen for note taking and their ears – no presentations with ominous-looking bar charts and graphs.