Are We Too Busy At Work To Really Listen?

"No one cares how much you know or what you want, until they know how much you care" ― Theodore Roosevelt

Like any good doctor, diagnose before you prescribe. We learn how to read, write and speak - but what about listening or just understanding that other people are not like me and that they don't they think like me? Not understanding this can lead to very frustrating conversations at work!


Most people at work listen with the intent to reply. They have two modes: 'speak' and 'prepare to speak'. Even when we do listen, our basic instinct is to apply what people tell us from our own experience. "Oh, I know exactly what you mean!” When we do that, we've stopped hearing. Great listening is about understanding others from their frame of reference:

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Communication is at the heart of any good relationship and this is no different in the work environment. Sharing our thoughts and needs and listening to those of others is critical for forming close professional relationships and for making us feel valued and understood. Good communication is of course two-way - it involves one person expressing what they have to say and the other person listening. It sounds simple but in business the difficulties are often caused by poor communication. Either we find it hard to share clearly what our needs are or we fail to hear those of the person we are communicating with.

Most of us at work share some common needs, for example to be treated respectfully, to belong, to experience being part of something. If we can get a clearer understanding of the needs driving our own and other people's behaviour, we have a much better chance of being able to have richer and more positive relationships in the work environment.

This sort of understanding is important whether we are communicating good things, making a request or explaining why something is bothering us. If we're angry with someone, our anger is because we have some important underlying needs that have not been met. If we don't explain our needs that person may misinterpret why we are angry and is more likely to get angry or upset in return. This can lead to a spiral of misunderstanding. This happens every day in business.

If instead we recognise our needs and those of others, we have the opportunity to connect with what is underneath the ways people act. We also have the best chance of having our own needs met if we are able to express clearly what these are.

The starting point is that we become more aware. It assumes we all share the same, basic human needs and that each of our actions or behaviours is a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. Many of the difficulties in work relationships come from either assuming we have clearly communicated what our needs are or from someone feeling that their needs are not being met.

Feelings and emotions are triggered in response to our underlying needs. Other people can trigger our feelings, but the choice is ours about how we respond. Just being more aware that needs underlie emotional reactions in others and ourselves, can help us to communicate better.

So when someone at work has done something that annoys or upsets you can I suggest you use the principles noted below to think through the issue and communicate effectively.

  1. Listen to your judgements. We often jump to conclusions about what's behind another person's behaviours. If we act on these judgements without understanding their needs it can lead to miscommunication and disagreement. So try to notice what you are telling yourself about why someone is doing something.
  2. Identify the facts. Removing any judgements, take a neutral perspective and try to describe the situation in the way that someone who was not involved might observe it.
  3. Name your feelings. Describe how you yourself felt when this happened.
  4. State your needs. Identify and explain the underlying needs that lead to these feelings.
  5. Make your request. What specific thing can the other person do in order to meet your needs? Note: they may not be able or want to do the thing you request, but making it is a clear starting point to finding a win-win compromise.

Momenta Performance Academy are world class experts in the people communication arena, to understand more call 020 7374 5632 or e-mail