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The importance of listening well

I joined Sperry Univac in March of 1980. The previous year the Sperry Corporation had embarked on a revolutionary and innovative programme of coordinated advertising, PR and training ever seen in IT.

But the programme didn’t focus on hardware, software or services, but on effective listening. It was translated into five languages, and tailored to meet the needs of managers, supervisors, marketing people, sales people, and the general employee population. The advertising slogan that accompanied the programme was “We understand how important it is to listen”.

The goals of the programme were to:

1 – Create an awareness of the importance of listening.

2 – Learn how to overcome the barriers to listening.

3 – Identify poor listening habits and practice.

4 – Improve responsive listening skills.

During the first twelve months of the worldwide initiative more than 13,000 Sperry Corporation employees, through 600 one-day listening seminars – designed by communications consultant Lyman k. Steil – had benefitted from participating in the programme.

After the first eighteen months the programme was evaluated and the findings reviewed, it indicated that:

1 – A far greater awareness had been created throughout the corporation as to the importance of listening well.

2 – People had become considerably more aware of the barriers to effective listening; they now knew how to identify these barriers and how to overcome them.

3 – Individuals, through the course of the program, were able to identify their own personal, listening habits and practices, and to think of ways to correct those shortfalls and to significantly improve their listening skills.

4 – Overall, responsive listening skills had significantly improved.

In 2003, Technical writer and Editor Polly Traylor remarked that “In the end, 44,000 Sperry workers learned the tenets of listening, which eventually became one of the reasons that they became such a business success.”

Leaders must nurture and hone effective listening skill otherwise they place themselves at a serious disadvantage.

Put it this way, as a leader you might be the most amazing talker this side of the Rockies, but if you can’t listen effectively then it would be like Nadal, Federer or Djokovic, having a great world-class tennis serve, but with a cultivated inability to accurately read the play or to return any difficult shot.

Thank you for reading.

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