Fun Naval fact: Before making an important announcement aboard the ship a boatswain whistle is used to get the attention of the crew.

Prepare Mentally

A friend recently asked me for some sage advice on how to influence teammates in Active Listening. How do you get your team’s attention? Is everyone paying attention?

It is interesting when you take the time to understand the dynamics of what is going on cognitively with all of the meeting attendees. An appreciation and understanding of some basic principles will help you maintain focus and keep you on track to achieve your goals. Two basic points to understand; first, you must make your subconscious behave. What does this mean? Do you focus on a rebuttal argument if you find yourself fundamentally in disagreement with someone’s point of view? If you do, chances are you will miss a large part of the presenters’ point because you are passively listening and more focused on proving your point mentally. This is a discipline that will take practice! And second, do not allow other unrelated work on your plate to keep you from being one hundred percent present. This is another compartmentalization skill that is a discipline that requires hard work to sharpen. Seems hard but the payoff is well worth it in the end.

Active Listening

To start, the practice of “situational awareness” is very important; are all attendees present both physically and mentally?

All participating members must recognize “everyone’s” time is valuable and demonstrate respect to each other by understanding “multi-tasking” is nothing more than an excuse to not pay attention. Remove all distractions (cell phones, laptops, etc.) and any external influence that will compete for participants’ “undivided” attention.

Engage the team with active discussion and ask them to paraphrase each other’s point of view (POV). Challenge the participants to fully appreciate and understand each other’s perspectives.  This will ultimately drive a deeper level of discussion and a respectful relationship.

Determine whether the POVs are short or long term solutions. Discuss the pros and cons of each. Respectfully challenge each other. A healthy debate is critical to foreseeing any potential obstacles to the proposed solution. The discussions may get heated mainly because each other’s POV is not understood (effective communication is an entirely different but related topic). Each team member must be respectful and keep their emotions in check. Keep in mind, often a short term solution is needed but, if the long term solution is understood the short term solution can be implemented in a way to minimize future rework.

There is only one winner and it is not the individual whose idea was used. It is the TEAM that advances towards the goal. Together all engaged members make a difference!

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