There is one skill that you will come across as vital in many industries and on almost every level you can find yourself on. I have not seen a recipe for it, rather heard about it from every person I have admired – from musicians, professionals from HR, Sales and I reckon it will be gaining even more attention even within novice programming teams. After having some ups and downs with this skill, I wanted to share a few thoughts and probably hear your remarks. The skill is (active) listening.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.
Leaving aside the trillion articles on tips, practices and different angles of it, I still find it puzzling to discover that a calibration of sorts is needed every day. Interpersonal communication has many facets and some days I find myself neck-deep in organizational and cultural context, so that I don’t know if it’s opposite day or not.
Before I start describing instances of my successes and defeats in this matter, let’s take a look at the bigger picture. No matter what is going on, you are the one who’s doing the listening. This suggests impulse control, social competences, good knowledge of the environment and so on. But it all starts with you.
On one of my first meetings with a Hiring Manager for the whole System Testing and Live Environments I hit a corporate and a cultural wall. I was telling the person about what we intend to do in HR and how this would be very helpful for finding more people and so on, but the HM was looking at his phone; I was getting nowhere. Not a single spark of interest so far. Sure, I said, and moved on – what is it like in your team now, where do you want to be? “We’d rather get the people first, we’ll see where we are after that.” -Rather cold but alright..
I managed to get things going only after offering a “suitable” starting point such as “I’m sure you are in overload mode ever since this project started. What do you need?” Looking back at this I realize two things – that really wasn’t active listening and the whole setup was a trap. It was a fishing remark made to give into the desired mood of my partner. It was a sort of etiquette in that particular location. In 2014 I know that it is a custom practiced all the time. Before you get to the listening part you need to establish the ground assumptions. This comes in contact with a very interesting topic for me – high- and low-context cultures.