A consultant approaches a CEO and suggests, “If you improve your employees’ as well as your ability to listen, you will profoundly impact your bottom line.” Can you hear the response? “They just need to do as they are told,” or “We just invested in the best equipment money can buy, they just need to do their job!” In his article, “Better Listening for Business and Personal Success, James Patterson stated, “You can trace 99.99% of all the problems we have at work back to some breakdown in communication. More specifically, the problem normally is a failure to listen.”
All too often, soft skills are thought of as a nice thing to have, but not something that can dramatically improve profits. Yet research indicates many areas where not listening has cost a company or in fact a nation millions of dollars. Think of the following examples.
• A supervisor who does not listen to his or her people will cause poor morale and disrupt the flow of information. When employees do not feel heard, they quit communicating resulting in the lack of critical information a leader needs to make effective decisions. A poor decision in one part of a business can result in a ripple effect across the entire organization.
• One of the main reasons individuals leave an organization is due to the relationship with their immediate supervisor and exit surveys indicate that a major cause is the employee never felt heard by their supervisor. The cost to replace an individual can reach 150% of their salary according to Wm. Bliss of Bliss & Associates, Inc. including recruitment costs, training costs, lost productivity, new hire costs and lost sales revenue.
• Think of the role of listening in decision-making. Often we come to a conclusion of the way things ought to be solved and go into a meeting with our mind made up. We are not open to exchanging ideas or viewpoints with others and only thinking of our rebuttal as others speak. The auto industry failed to listen to their customer’s desire for smaller vehicles and debated why they should continue to build large vehicles, only to find they are losing market share and facing bankruptcy.
• Another short-coming is when we judge the messenger as not being competent. When we negatively label people as uninformed, we do not listen to what that person says, and we limit our ability to gather all the information needed to make an informed decision. Think of the stories such as 9/11 or the Challenger explosions where individuals tried to warn higher ranking officials about impending tragedy. You should judge only the information after it is received, and you have taken time to consider other options.
On the other hand, when employees feel heard, they will continue to communicate openly. Bob Schmidt of the University at Notre Dame states, “Great leaders listen to their associates and make them feel that their thoughts have been given consideration.” When Lauren Dixon of Dixon-Schwabl was selected as “2008 Best Small Business in America” to work for, she received a report outlining her employee’s comments. Although overwhelmingly positive, she noticed one concern involving the lack of parking. Per Lauren, that day she formed a task force to enlarge the parking lot and it was quickly resolved. This type of action screams “I hear you” and “I respect what you are saying.” By investing in your employees’ ability to listen productivity, morale and ultimately the bottom line are dramatically affected.