“What do you mean by ‘Say it again’?”- 6 January 2014

General Manager Dilip looked just harassed. The meeting was not going on as he had planned. For, whatever he said was not being heard properly. One young man was disturbing the meeting’s flow by saying, ‘Say it again’. So, Dilip had to explain the point again and again and yet the guy did not give up saying, ‘Say it again’. Ultimately, after more than 45 minutes of struggling to take the meeting forward, Dilip asked angrily, “What do you mean by ‘Say it again’?”

The General Manager was troubled by a common problem of poor listening abilities of his colleagues. So, at that meeting, he exploded in anger. He said, “Come on fellows, try to listen to me properly. I am sure you are not deaf not to hear my words. But, for God’s sake, don’t just hear my words, listen to them. And if you cannot listen to me properly, then I may suggest such persons to seek another employment….!”
But this is not an isolated incident in a corporate office. Most of us come across such instances on innumerable occasions. Something is said in all seriousness, but the audience has a good number of people who have only heard the words but not listened to them. Experienced managers know that only about 50% of what they say is absorbed by their colleagues and the rest goes waste. And that is why countless corporate training sessions are devoted to helping the employees develop proper listening skills.
There are countless reasons why people cannot listen to the message properly. The most common reason is that most people’s minds are preoccupied by some thought which is far removed from the work-situation. Sometimes, it is the fight with the wife before coming to work, or son’s failure to clear an interview, or sister’s broken engagement…! With mind engaged in such thoughts, the person is less likely to be focussed on what he is supposed to hear correctly and act upon it.
Another reason is that those who wish to communicate whatever idea do not frame the message properly, and thus create a muddle in the minds of members of the audience.
This was certainly not the case with Dilip’s meetings. In fact, he was a great communicator and could cut across various barriers to listening by smart usage of words and other interest devices. Yet, there was that guy stopping him by ‘Say it again’.
And that guy’s problem was altogether different. He felt, he knew already whatever Dilip intended to tell. That was, of course, a mistaken notion, for otherwise he would never have stalled the discourse often with his ‘Say it again’.
This is, thus, a major issue in management all over the world. Workplaces often resound with angry outbursts of bosses who feel frustrated by their colleague’s inability to absorb their message correctly. They shout their colleagues down and force them into a more diligent listening. But again, they realise soon that shouting is not the best way doing things.
Experts suggest that managers who wish to communicate their message properly, therefore, ask their audiences again and again, ‘Is that clear? Are there any questions? Any doubts?’
They expect their colleagues to have all their doubts cleared before rising from meetings.
But then, there are some bosses who ask colleagues to get their doubts cleared, but get angry when doubts are raised. When this happens repeatedly, employees shrink and stop asking questions. And then on, they sit at meeting rather warily and pass the time.
The problem, thus, has many dimensions that need to be addressed at the workplace seriously. Experience has shown that systematic training to develop listening skills can be of great help in creating proper atmosphere for collective communication in work teams. Though the employees or colleagues have poor listening skills, it is the fundamental responsibility of the managers to ensure that their messages are framed and delivered properly. For, if someone does not listen and then botches up a task, then it is the manager who gets the blame.
This is where the buck should stop.

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