When I was first learning Spanish 40 years ago in Venezuela, I achieved a very basic level of fluency. Someone would say something to me in passing, and after about ten minutes of rolling their words around in my head, they would click. This was fantastic, because it meant I was listening and understanding. Not just hearing words.
Despite my success in language learning I’d realize later that I’d responded 100% wrong.
I don’t know how many people I failed to connect with those first few months of learning to understand in time to respond. Thankfully I continued to learn and listen and eventually understand almost everything in the Spanish language.
This post is not about Spanish, and it’s not about listening. This post is about understanding.
Your challenge this week: try for one day this week to make a concerted effort to understand the people talking to you.
Much like you can hear when someone is smiling on the phone, you can hear in someone’s response when they are listening. Your response will indicate however, whether or not you understand them. As a leader it’s your responsibility to let your team members know if you are understanding them. Suppose I am at work and a colleague comes up to me and asks me a question or a favor.
As a leader I have to have time to stop, make eye contact and either give her my full attention, or take the time to stop, look her in the eye and say, “I want to give you my full attention but I have a meeting in three minutes. Can I speak to you about this on your lunch break?”
You may not think you have time to do that. It is not an issue of time — it is an issue of habit. Take that time! Stop, look, listen and understand! This is paramount in letting people know you care enough to understand and ask for clarification if you don’t. This may seem simple, but if people followed the simple more often they’d step on less toes and get in less awkward situations.
Good luck this week!