It seems like when we first meet with labor-management groups they have complaints about communications in their organizations. We see issues with the ability of both labor and management to effectively communicate with each other.
There are numerous causes for these problems. We have written in the past about the importance of an effective two-way communications process between the parties and their constituents, Today, we would like to focus on an often-overlooked part of the communications process, effective listening.
Problem solving in any setting requires participants to have access to complete information. This includes the information we can gather by listening to what is being said by everyone. Instead, we divert our attention to framing the arguments we will make when the person is finished speaking.
When we fail to listen carefully, we risk losing important facts, miss an opportunity to understand the interests that underly their positions, and miss out on important facts. We are likely to base our responses on the faulty assumptions we brought into the room with us, not what was just said. When the other side perceives we are not really listening it will damage the ongoing relationship with them. This will further damage the opportunities for the parties to work together.
When we facilitate labor-management meetings, we may ask someone from the other side to restate their understanding of when was just said. Doing so demonstrates they were listening to the points being made and understand them. It further acknowledges their ideas even if we do not agree with them. We want to be sure that everyone is on the same page about the facts under consideration and there is a common understanding of the problem. This is an opportunity for others to affirm what was just said, clarify their statements, or ask for more information.
We may also ask questions to confirm key points made in the statement. While some of these may seem to be obvious (and often are), they are deigned to focus attention on those points and build understandings. The questions are not planned to raise new issues or debating points, but are to help clarify and build understanding of what was said.
Effective listening (during our training we use the common term active listening) is vital for any type of problem solving and group process. Listening seems obvious, but it takes real work and effort. It also takes some self-control to focus on statements being made rather than use the time to frame our arguments. Listening opens up an opportunity to learn more information and better understand the interests of other party. In doing so we can increase likelihood of finding a successful outcome.