Many of us have noticed a significant shift in our workplaces. The environment has changed as well. Some people work at their kitchen tables, others in their bedrooms. And some, if we are lucky, have our own office.
My workplace and environment have remained the same for more than 20 years. I used to be a telecommuter or remote worker. I spent five years working in a corporate environment as a trainer and project manager and 15 years as a facilitator, trainer, and recruiter from my home. The current workplace environment isn’t new to me.
Although I love working from my home office, it was not easy for me to adapt. Communication was also tricky. There were many communication problems, not least because of the large construction project outside my window. It was incredible the amount of noise. To communicate with other people, either over the phone or via conference calls, I had my car drive to a park and then join conference calls using my cell phone. Follow a PowerPoint presentation without Zoom or the equivalent.
Remote work can present a number of communication problems, not only with the medium but also with the tone and words we use when communicating over the telephone. Video calls can be difficult because it can be hard to understand expressions and body language. It is also difficult to listen, especially when everyone is on the same call. Listening takes practice. How can you make sure everyone receives the message actively? How can you make sure they listen to the news? How can you ensure they understand and hear the message?
How we listen.
According to Future Ready Leadership programs at Mohawk College Enterprise (MCE), there are five types of listening. These programs focus on leaders’ ability to communicate effectively with their team members by being good listeners. They distinguish between pretend, selective, active, and reflective listening.
Do you ever find that your thoughts drift off-topic during conferences calls or online meetings? Do you ever find yourself thinking about dinner tonight or how to best help your children with their online assignments instead of the topic being discussed? You are not listening if you do. While you may be using the correct body language, with nodding and murmurs assent, your mind is somewhere else. All of this happens, and although it shouldn’t be discouraged, it is something that we all experience. Sometimes we just need to daydream.
Selective listening can be disruptive as we listen to what we want, interpret what we hear with our opinions, views, and attitudes about the topic, rather than listening to the intent of the speaker. Simoni Lawrence of the Canadian Football League Hamilton Ticats states, “Real communication doesn’t always revolve around what’s being said, but rather what’s being heard.” Listeners may hear words or phrases in a different way than they intended. This can lead to misinformation, incorrect assumptions, and wrong decisions. Relationships could be negatively affected.
Consider the phrase “defunding police” as an example. What are the first words we think of when we hear defunding? Some people hear the word defunding as ‘disbanding the existing policing system and structure’ while others hear the phrase’reducing the budget for police’ and others hear the phrase’redistributing police budget to better meet the needs of the community.
What is the purpose of those who ask for the defunding police? What do we hear from this request?
How we hear.
Interaction is possible through active, reflective, or empathetic listening. These types of listening require both active participation from the sender as well as the receiver, with feedback between them. Participation refers to being clear about the message and receiving the correct and appropriate response. Empathetic listening is the best form of listening. It is all about listening attentively, with insight and compassion.
Although we can understand and appreciate empathy listening, it is not something that we can always apply. How we see the world is what matters. Your perceptions could be limiting your ability to listen effectively. Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead, explains that these perceptions, or lenses, through which we see the world “…, are limiting our ability to be who we indeed are. This is a problem if you were raised in a majority culture (white, straight, male…) and was taught that your viewpoint is correct and everyone else must adjust theirs.
Empathetic listening means being able to learn from others and being able to adjust our perspective by asking for and considering their feedback. It is essential to allow them to express their feelings and ask questions in order to understand our thoughts. This clarity in communication will enable us to gauge how effectively we respond.
Communication is dynamic. It involves considering the message in terms of content, tone, and words. But also how it will be delivered. Effective communication is possible regardless of where we are located. We can connect with others by understanding their intent, adapting our perceptions, and making sure that everyone understands what they are saying.