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No. 18 – Are You a Good Listener?

February 23, 2011

You can enhance the success of your radiation safety program with good listening skills. As you explain radiation safety requirements at your facility, your ability to hear and respond to the needs and concerns of the staff may make the difference on whether they become willing advocates or reluctant malcontents. Everyone wants and needs to be listened to. Breakdowns in communication are more likely to occur from errors in listening carefully, than in errors of speaking. The price of poor listening is a loss of credibility and cooperation. Up to this point, most of you probably agree. But, if we agree listening is so important, why don’t we listen better?

Real listening is a process of actively engaging your attention on the words of another person.* Listening means not only hearing the words, but also understanding the message, the intent, and the feelings of the other person. Active listening is hard work. It takes effort, patience, open mindedness, and thinking. It means paying attention to nonverbal cues and listening for the details. This is not easy when we are bombarded every day with words from every direction, most of which are intended to manipulate us into a particular response. Thus, we have learned to screen out what seems irrelevant almost to the point of screening out everything.

Also, most health physicists are action oriented and listening does not seem like action. Therefore, we may interrupt others to jump into the action and perhaps also jump to conclusions. Since we can listen and think at 400 to 500 words a minute, average speaking rates of 150 words a minute leave a lot of time for our minds to wander. We may spend that time thinking of our reply, what is wrong with the other person, or simply our own stuff.

To determine if you are a good listener, ask yourself the following questions. Are you completely absorbed in others’ words and hold your comments until they finish? Do you keep eye contact and look interested in the other person? Do you more often ask questions rather than give answers? Do you attempt to read body language and ask yourself what the other person is feeling? If you answer negatively to these questions, then insights in listening may be helpful. Stay tuned for useful techniques.

* “The Dynamics of Effective Listening” by Tony Alessandra, Nightingale-Conant Corp. Niles, IL. 1995.

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