Without getting lost in the physics and chemistry, air is good for two things: breathing and listening. We tend to be really good at the first, and we occasionally forget about the second. A successful business values both. Without air, you have a vacuum, and business doesn’t get done in a vacuum. Business is, ultimately, a series of transactions, and a transaction is nothing more than information shared between two parties. To complete a transaction, you must be understood by the other party. As Stephen Covey discusses in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a critical habit to success is this understanding between two parties.
Why We Listen
A successful business leader understands the value of communication. They must communicate with people below and above them in the corporate structure. Messages must flow from the top to the bottom (and from the bottom to the top) without losing integrity. The same is true for the messaging the business provides to its customers prior to, during and after a transaction. If a company says it is going to sell you blue sneakers, and then delivers red ones, something has gone terribly wrong, and more often than not, it’s a matter of poor communication.
This is a rather matter-of-fact chain — the transmission of quantified tasks or instructions and the acknowledgement and completion of those instructions. If that was all that was required of business, the world would be run by robots — autonomous machines that are exceptionally well-suited to carrying out specific instructions. But that isn’t the world we have (not yet, at least), which means the communication chain is made up of different kinds of people. Communication between individuals can get very nuanced very quickly, which makes it imperative for managers to listen as readily as they speak.
In computer networks, the fundamental transmission of data is a packet transfer. A machine on one end of a network sends over a packet of data; the machine at the other end receives it and sends back a message saying it was received. The first machine acknowledges the successful transmission of the data, and says, “Okay, here comes more data!” The second receives it, acknowledges receipt, and the process continues until all the packets have been transmitted.
Every communication — whether it be a packet transfer between routers, calls between birds of the same species, or coworkers discussing a TV show in the staff lounge — is a variant of the raw data transfer between two computers. Every conversation begins with one party initiating and the other party acknowledging receipt of that information and responding accordingly. Of the habit of listening, Covey says that we should practice receiving before responding. By acting in this manner, we acknowledge up front the value the other party has in the conversation. Regardless of the different roles each individual has within the business, this initial recognition of the communication protocol lets the other party know this conversation is happening at a peer-to-peer level. Acknowledgement says, “I value this transaction and I am ready to hear your message.”
The Only Bad News Is the News You Don’t Hear
A team is more effective if all members are moving in the same direction toward the same goals. By learning to listen, good managers show they care about the work their teams are doing. They are invested in and informed about the process. Their ability to make good business decisions is based on the information they’ve received from those around them, which depends to a large extent on listening well.
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