The Difference In Listening

Fancy a butty for lunch? My local baker’s shop does a roaring trade and I’d recommend the sandwiches. I’d also recommend taking along a couple of bosses from the NHS, banks or big corporates. No, not for the ham salad on brown with mayo and no tomatoes. To show them what’s wrong particularly in our hospitals or why you have a high staffing turnover.

Mine is a relatively simple order. Just a couple of main items and maybe a custard tart. Lunchtimes are always busy and the service is fine. But probably at least 20% of the time, my sandwiches are not what I ordered. Or it takes at least 4 attempts to ensure that what I get over the counter is what I wanted when I walked in the shop.

Why? The servers don’t listen. ‘Next please’ goes up the shout. It’s me. Before I’ve even finished ordering my own lunch, the shop assistant is walking away to the sandwich assembly counter to her left. I end up asking a tray of granary loaves for my wife’s turkey salad.

Then completely disengaged from me, my server attempts to fulfil my order by shouting from her distant sandwich assembly post. ‘Brown muffin wasn’t it?’ ‘Did you say salad cream or mayo?’ ‘Was there one without tomatoes?’

She hasn’t listened you see. More bothered about the queue in the shop and getting to the end of the lunchtime rush, rather than actually engaging with me, taking the time to listen to my order and then returning with it, full, complete and entirely to my satisfaction. It would be good to feel that I’d been served, rather than just merely dispatched. Sometimes I go without the custard tart. It’s just not worth adding to the confusion.

At i2i, we deliver some very powerful exercises on communicating and being absolutely ‘on message’.

Without these skills, sound and responsible management is impossible. But you also have to listen and how many times do we appear to listen and not hear? And how many times do we interrupt people before they’ve finished speaking? I’m guilty too often in that one, I’m afraid. Watch young children. They’re often the best listeners when in a group playing together.

Perhaps the message is hitting home. At Durham University, Dr. Robert McMurray is conducting research ‘on the process of relationality at work’. His work led him to study the Samaritans. He spent time with individual Samaritans observing their listening work, training, recruitment, meetings and related activities. The study is ongoing but at its simplest the Samaritans are there to listen, without being judgemental, to respond without being directive.

By better understanding these mechanisms, Dr. McMurray and colleagues are aiming to develop a tool kit of procedures and systems that organisations could employ to promote the health and wellbeing of their staff – something which should be of interest to any manager who is concerned for the wellbeing of their workers, but who is also concerned to avoid the costs associated with stress, absenteeism and staff turnover that can arise from the demands of such work.

And it all starts with listening. Maybe there will be an improvement in listening skills at my local sandwich shop; so I don’t feel like calling the Samaritans when they stuff up my order. Again!

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