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#WFH: Are You Really Listening Online?

Listening in the virtual environment is tuning into the intent as well as the commitment of the other party. Working in the virtual world requires management and workers to listen very closely to each other. Listening involves more than just paying attention. In a virtual environment, this can be challenging. Virtual environments can have great deal of noise, both internal and external. The environment itself is connected but detached. Virtual workers re-port feeling more productive but also experiencing more disturbances and interruptions. They are influenced by but detached from the corporate culture. Virtual workers value the flexibility and autonomy of working remotely but fear they are not being heard, are going to be overlooked for promotions or are in-visible to management. Virtual managers can have concerns about their influence and control. They value success and fear their lack of physical presence may result in poor worker performance, unmet objectives or inferior results.

There are four basic steps to effectively listening in the virtual environment: active listening, reflective listening, responsive listening and intuitive listening. Active listening is the first step and requires focused attention and concentration. Reflective listening acknowledges the speaker and confirms an attempt to understand the message. You check your understanding by mirroring or restating what you think you heard. Responsive listening shifts the dynamics and opens the door to new possibilities in relationships. It acknowledges that the person is in charge of his/her own life, supports autonomy, and trusts that the objectives of the individual and the organization can be aligned to support mutually beneficial results. Intuitive listening validates and confirms the importance of the person’s position and his/her intentions. Intuitive listening helps a person accept responsibility for their own experiences and feelings and it acknowledge that these are within his/her own control.

We learn to distinguish between personally significant and insignificant information almost from birth. Teachers will say that students are not going to learn if they are not paying attention. Often, paying attention requires active listening. Active listening seems so easy but requires careful focus and mind-fulness. Research suggests that we pick up sounds associated with personal and emotional relevance very quickly. We all have preferential processing of personally significant information. Examples of this kind of information are if someone calls your name, if your device rings, or if you hear your child’s voice.

The brain is built to tune in or tune out very quickly. Most of the time when this is happening you are unaware of it. When your device dings, your email pings or your phone rings, it is easy to be distracted, lose focus and not actively listen. We are all human and this is how most humans are hardwired. Your brain has the ability and will change how it will respond based on what has happened in the past. If our meeting or our coworker was boring last time, or we thought the interaction was insignificant, we might just tune out.

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