Continuous Improvement is about people and communication.  Many of us are effective speakers, but few are really good listeners.  If, as Dr. Shingo said, 95% of objection is cautionary (I believe this caution is due to lack of trust) then one of leaderships/managements primary objectives must be to create an environment of mutual respect and trust.  One key ingredient in the creation of a favorable environment is a constant practice of good listening.

Good listening does not come naturally to me.

In the past, I have often found the “solution” prior to fully understand the problem, occasionally “fixing” the wrong problems….clearly an ineffective, waste-filled process.  My physician recently shared with me a study on doctor/patient communications: the results: a doctor will interrupt their patient 17 seconds after asking them a question. In self-reflection, I am reminded of good A3 thinking, done the Toyota Way.  In the simplest terms, the sheet is divided into two halves, the left side or current condition for problem definition, effects etc, the right or target condition side is for counter-measures, milestones and their status. Toyota’s philosophy, holds clarity of problem definition as equal in importance to counter-measures to the problem. , after-all, fixing the wrong problem is not our objective, this would diminish both the process and the people involved and waste a lot of valuable resource.  Identifying the real problems than applying the scientific method for problem solving is our true objective.

My experience, both professional and personal, has informed me over and over again, that humans like to be listened to and dislike being ignored.  Perhaps when we think we are listening, we are giving unintentional feedback to “our customer” that we are not.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Steven Covey
Habit 5 — Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Principles of Empathic Communication
1. Character and Communication
* Communication is the most important skill in life
* If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me, you first need to understand me.
* You have to build the skills of empathic listening on a base of character that inspires openness and trust.

2. Empathic Listening

* Most people listen with the intent to reply.
* When another person speaks, we are usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels:
a- ignoring
b- pretending
c- selective listening
d- attentive listening

Very few of us ever practice the highest form of listening — empathic listening.

* Only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say, another 30 percent by our sounds, and 60 percent by body language.
Dr. Covey suggests we “Diagnose Before we Prescribe” …….let’s make sure we are solving the correct problems…….otherwise our efforts are waste.

Other resources:

Casaa Resources

Some words on “active listening”

If you are really listening intently, you should feel tired after your speaker has finished. Effective listening is an active rather than a passive activity.
When you find yourself drifting away during a listening session, change your body position and concentrate on using one of the above skills. Once one of the skills is being used, the other active skills will come into place as well.
Your body position defines whether you will have the chance of being a good listener or a good deflector. Good listeners are like poor boxers: they lead with their faces.
Meaning cannot just be transmitted as a tangible substance by the speaker. It must also be stimulated or aroused in the receiver. The receiver must therefore be an active participant for the cycle of communication to be complete.

The Par Group
Following are some keys to listening well

  1. Give 100% Attention: Prove you care by suspending all other activities.
  2. Respond: Responses can be both verbal and nonverbal (nods, expressing interest) but must prove you received the message, and more importantly, prove it had an impact on you. Speak at approximately the same energy level as the other person…then they’ll know they really got through and don’t have to keep repeating.
  3. Prove understanding: To say “I understand” is not enough. People need some sort of evidence or proof of understanding. Prove your understanding by occasionally restating the gist of their idea or by asking a question which proves you know the main idea. The important point is not to repeat what they’ve said to prove you were listening, but to prove you understand. The difference in these two intentions transmits remarkably different messages when you are communicating.
  4. Prove respect: Prove you take other views seriously. It seldom helps to tell people, “I appreciate your position” or “I know how you feel.” You have to prove it by being willing to communicate with others at their level of understanding and attitude. We do this naturally by adjusting our tone of vice, rate of speech and choice of words to show that we are trying to imagine being where they are at the moment.


When interacting, people often are not listening attentively to one another. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next, (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements).

Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others. It focuses attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference and suspending judgment are important in order to fully attend to the speaker.


It is important to observe the other person’s behavior and body language. Having heard, the listener may then paraphrase the speaker’s words. It is important to note that the listener is not necessarily agreeing with the speaker—simply stating what was said. In emotionally charged communications, the listener may listen for feelings. Thus, rather than merely repeating what the speaker has said, the active listener might describe the underlying emotion (“you seem to feel angry” or “you seem to feel frustrated, is that because…?”).

Individuals in conflict often contradict one another. This has the effect of denying the validity of the other person’s position. Either party may react defensively, and they may lash out or withdraw. On the other hand, if one finds that the other party understands, an atmosphere of cooperation can be created. This increases the possibility of collaborating and resolving the conflict.

In the book Leader Effectiveness Training, Thomas Gordon states “Active listening is certainly not complex. Listeners need only restate, in their own language, their impression of the expression of the sender. … Still, learning to do Active Listening well is a rather difficult task…”[1]

Active listening is used in a wide variety of situations, including tutoring,[2] medical workers talking to patients,[3] HIV counseling,[4] helping suicidal persons,[5] management,[6] counseling and journalistic settings. In groups it may aid in reaching consensus. It may also be used in casual conversation to build understanding, though this can be interpreted as condescending.

The benefits of active listening include getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict and building trust. In a medical context, benefits may include increased patient satisfaction,[3] improving cross-cultural communication,[7] improved outcomes,[3] or decreased litigation[8].

Active listening can be measured by the Active Listening Observation Scale.[9]

Barriers to Active Listening

All elements of communication, including listening, may be affected by a barrier(s) that can impede the flow of conversation between individuals. Some of these barriers include distractions, trigger words, vocabulary, and limited attention span to name a few[10].

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