Time to listen

Ana_CanabarroI was recently asked: who or what do you appreciate in your life right now? Without thinking too much, or logically choosing what to say, the answer popped into my head: time. Time to spend with the people I love and to enjoy their company. I don’t know why I was slightly surprised at this answer that my brain produced without me realising. After all, that seems like a straight forward thought, but I think like most people, I’m guilty of taking things for granted sometimes.

We lead such busy lives in such an information-overload age that it can be easy to think we don’t have time to dedicate to family and friends. Or at least, it’s easy to feel like there is always something else we should be doing, some task, personal or work, that has yet to be finished.

So how can we relate all of this to delivering on an exceptional and memorable service?

Well, for a start, we need to appreciate that time is a gift in itself. Giving people our time can be one of the best things we can do for them. Whether it’s a colleague that is not feeling at their best or a customer that is unhappy, sometimes, dedicating our time to listen can be the most powerful thing we can do for people.

In his brilliant TED talk, Julian Treasure, explores techniques to improve our listening abilities. His main focus being that in today’s busy society, we are losing our ability to listen well and that, crucially, listening is the gateway to understanding each other.

So I’d like to offer three simple points to keep in mind when taking time to listen to others:

  • Avoid ‘preoccupied listening’ – the other day I was paying for my lunch and got served by the manager of the shop at the tills. You could tell that she really cared about her job and her team, and they were doing really well – it was an engaging and friendly atmosphere. Except that she was paying attention to that and not the person in front of her. She had that classic distracted listening smile, doing all the right things but not fully present in that moment. Parents do it, teachers do it, we all do it: that distracted-one-eye-on-another-thing-busy-life-kind-of-listening. Which brings me to my next point…
  • The listener, not the talker, has the power – have you ever got the feeling that someone was not listening to you? Did that make you feel like talking more or less? Usually, if we notice that someone isn’t listening to us, we tend to cut our point short. It’s not comfortable to keep talking at someone if they look like they are not listening. Which, of course, shows how much more powerful listening well can be!
  • Seek first to understand” – from Stephen Covey’s fantastic book, The seven habits of highly effective people, this illustrates perfectly how we tend to go through life wanting to be understood, to make our point. Cultivating the habit of seeking first to understand assumes that we make the effort to listen without formulating a response; it is to listen with the sole objective of getting to know the other individual in front of us. Let’s not forget that the best communicators are great listeners, which also makes them astute in their observations of others!

Human beings are about connection. No matter how much technology advances and how busy our lives get, we need each other. So, here is a challenge for all of us, both at work and our home life: next time you find yourself ‘too busy’ with life… stop to give someone your time and see what happens!

Ana Canabarro is Senior Operations Manager for Mitie Client Services

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