We’ve all witnessed it. The meeting comes to an end and everyone goes their separate ways, clueless about what to do next. I’ve seen times when a team has a lengthy meeting, and as soon as it’s over, a smaller group of people meet up and decide to change the direction.

What’s the point of the first meeting, then?

Leaders who disseminate information to the team leaders expect the same information to be passed onto their teams. Will it be correct? Or will you end up with an expensive game of telephone — where the information grows a little fuzzier each time it gets relayed? Meanwhile, teams working hard moving different directions can derail projects, cause unnecessary stress and frustration, or worse.

All of this impacts the bottom line.

Then there’s the times where two people are talking and walk away even more confused. Clear as mud.

Most miscommunication happens because the information was never communicated properly to begin with. The message one person is sending isn’t received properly on the other end.

The problem is too many people don’t listen. They hear.

Listening vs hearing

These two words are often used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction between them. Hearing is what happens when your ear receives sound. Listening is what happens when you hear and pay attention to what you’re hearing.

Clip from Inside Out / © 2015 Disney/Pixar

Think back to the last time you had a conversation with someone where your mind is preoccupied with something completely unrelated. Maybe you’re recalling that great joke Sandra cracked this morning. Maybe you’re simply trying to think of how to get your point across as soon as their mouth stops moving.

You’re hearing, but you’re not listening.

When you’re listening, you walk away from the conversation having absorbed the information given to you. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to act on it. But you understand it. You know what was communicated to you.

Benefits of listening

The difference between hearing and listening has deeper implications than just passing on information. It has a direct impact on your tribe’s productivity.

Let’s say you’re working on a project where you need to send a sales proposal and send it to John, the sales rep.

Seems simple enough. In Word, you go to the File menu and down to Save As and type in the name, “Sales Proposal for Bob’s Bait Shop.”

Hit Save and you’re done.

You did what you were asked to do, but does your new document serve its purpose? Is it in the format John needs? Does it include the right information he needs to do his job?

When you understand the result you need, it’s not about mindlessly clicking button A, button B, and so on. You understand what John needs in the sales proposal. He’s less likely to kick back the document, which means you’re able to get more stuff done. It also helps John do his job better, which increases the chance at getting the sale and everyone wins.

Source: dictionary.com

Everyone on the same page

There are team meetings, staff meetings, one on one meetings, emails, phone calls, follow-ups, Slack, project management tools, and the list goes on and on. Then there’s the time and energy spent on getting team members to understand how to use those tools.

Companies spend an incredible amount of time trying to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Yet, for some reason, most leaders fail to help their teams learn how to communicate with each other better. They learn the tools, but not what makes up good communication.

Email, Slack or other team communication tools are great, but they’re tools. They don’t fix the root problem of two people not knowing how to communicate properly. The message sent isn’t always the message received. So, layering on more tools won’t fix the problem, either.

The solution is easier than you think.

Invest time in your people.

Every team is made up of a unique set of people. How they communicate with each other will be different, too. Help them learn how to communicate with each other by letting them practice it on a regular basis. It doesn’t take long and can help make sure everyone in your tribe is rowing in the same direction.

To help you get started fixing the root problem of your team’s communication, we put together a guide to a listening skills activity.

This guide walks you through an activity to practice active listening skills regularly with your team.


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