I want to describe the situation in a trade company where poor listening habits of one of the managers (let us call him John) had a negative effect on his work, profits of the company, and interpersonal communication within the work collective. The above-mentioned company deals with local distribution of jewelry, souvenirs and antique items. This company has small subdivisions in major cities and we are going to speak about its eastern subdivision. The work collective of this subdivision consists of seven people: head of the subdivision, three managers, a lawyer, an accountant and a driver. One of the managers, John, had rather poor listening habits, but this hasn’t been noticed at once, when the team was created; the reason of frequent misunderstandings between John and other members of the work collective was only found after a psychologist’s interview with all members of the subdivision.
I can set up two examples when John’s poor listening habits caused negative effect. First of all, the company had a good reputation in the region, but after several cases of misunderstanding between John and the clients of the company, this image has been negatively affected. John did not listen fully to what his client was asking; considering himself a “brilliant thinker” and an “expert of people’s thoughts”, after hearing several words he decided that he had understood what his clients wanted, and started offering different items to them. While the clients were trying to explain what exactly they want, John was nearly paying no attention to what they were saying. One or two times the situation ended with a scandal with a demanding client, and other not so impatient and demanding clients just went to another shop and took the decision not to deal with this company any more. Moreover, John’s poor listening habits resulted in the fact that a conflict between head of subdivision and our hero had appeared. The situation was the following: during the usual weekly meetings of the team the head of subdivision was giving his advice, and sometimes critics to all members of the team. This was his normal working responsibility, but John was imagining any critics concerning him as an insult. Taking into consideration that fact that John’s sales have reduced and the figures showed that he was working less effective than other managers, the head of subdivision (let us call him Mark) decided that he should point this out and made the decision to investigate the reason of this.
Firstly in a private conversation Mark informed John that his activities were becoming worse, and wondered about the reasons of this; the whole conversation was started in friendly and positive manner, but John decided that Mark is trying to oppress him and again, decided that it was an insult. Instead of improving his work, John became angry with Mark and decided that Mark is envying him. Since that time any Mark’s comment or critics concerning John’s work were regarded as simple demonstration of envy and were ignored. On the other hand, seeing that John is in fact ignoring his requests, Mark also started being angry with John, and started criticizing his work publicly during the weekly meetings, which he had never done before. The situation had a very negative effect on the company’s work in the whole; the relations in the collective have become very strained.
All this could have been avoided if John improved his listening habits. Let us now analyze the factors affecting the interpersonal communication in this situation. First of all, such factors as unspoken expectation were involved here: Mark was expecting John to react properly to his critics; John was expecting Mark to praise him above all, and not criticize. Another factor here is John’s overstated self-appraisal, which did not correspond with the reality. One more factor involved in this interpersonal conflict is prejudgment that was taking place in both described situations.
The difference of cultures and upbringings can also lead to problems in communication; the difference between personality types must be also taken into account, when analyzing interpersonal communication. Perhaps not only John is the main problem in the current situation; Mark should also use more constrictive ways of criticism and in my opinion, for any person in head position it is important to be able to think ahead of his subordinates; if the situation becomes critical, head person should be the first to understand what is going on and change his tactic in time.
In my opinion, the problem could be solved if both John and Mark (but this concerns John first of all) have to learn how to use empathetic listening. Let us find out what is empathetic listening. It belongs to seven habits of highly effective people and is usually listed as habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood [1, p. 84]. This means that to be an effective listener and to have effective communication, the person first of all has to understand his interlocutor, and to influence the interlocutor, it is very important to realize what he wants. When another person speaks, a person usually listening at one of four levels:
attentive listening [2, p. 102]
Empathetic listening is the most difficult but most effective of all ways of listening. “Only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say, another 30 percent by our sounds, and 60 percent by body language” [2, p. 108]. Empathetic listening includes not only listening to what your interlocutor is telling; it can be divided into five steps – understanding the mimics of the person; listening to the words the person is saying; understanding the feeling of the person; reflecting the feeling and mimics of the person; and finally, answering with right words. Taking the time to listen to body language, to analyze the mimics, the way the person is breathing and the peculiarities of the person’s speaking can help greatly to realize what this person really intended to say. “The key to empathic listening is to genuinely seek the welfare of the individual to whom you are listening” [1, p. 213].
In our situation, the skills of empathetic listening could help John solve his misunderstanding with clients, and for both John and Mark empathetic listening could also be the solution of their conflict. In my opinion, such empathetic techniques as copying the interlocutor’s mimics, gestures, pose etc. and first of all being concentrated on the welfare of the interlocutor will be of great use in this situation.
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