Communication – It’s all about listening

Listening – Yes you heard it right.

The art of listening my friends is not as simple as it seems.

As TBS and our portfolio of software development, operational support, and knowledge process outsourcing clients has grown, time and again experience has shown that communication is vital across all layers: between colleagues, between departments(DevOps, anyone?), with stakeholders and clients

More importantly, with our international clients we have to bridge the geographical gap across continents and prove that professionals have the ability to overcome physical distance.

Our Projects teams accomplish this through using online collaborative toolsets like Atlassian, Jira, Redmine, and GIT.

Our Systems Engineers have made an artform of remote access.

Our Knowledge Process and Support teams use all of the above tools and their commitment to a client-shift working day to stay in touch and in sync with customers and their businesses.

Underpinning all of this is effective, timely, and accurate communication.

On time? Of course. Accurate? Definitely. But, what is this ‘art’ they call ‘Effective’ communication anyway?

One talks, the other stands there and looks like they’re interested and vice versa. How hard is that you may ask?

The key to effective communication with clients is not just sending information in and out.

The secret is in paying attention to the information – requests, requirements, problems, ideas, subtle clues as to plans or proposals – that comes in.

In other words: not just ‘speaking’ and ‘hearing’, but really ‘Listening’, and only then responding.

To Hear, or To Listen

What is the difference between ‘to hear’ and ‘to listen’? When we say ‘ Did you hear me?’

or ‘ are you listening?’ – Do we mean the same thing?

The dictionary meaning is:

HEAR: To perceive or apprehend by the ear.

LISTEN: To hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration.

So they are different after all. What I have seen happen as a common occurrence is that we are all so engrossed in our work that in a conversation we are so keen to reply back that we don’t tend to really listen but we just hear and jump into putting our points forward!

I will give you a few examples of how simple day to day conversations can be misled.

Q: What is your date of birth?

A: July fifteenth

Q: What year?

A: Every year

Q: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?

A: All my autopsies are performed on dead people

Q: All your responses must be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

A: Oral

Whilst we can laugh at such examples as jokes, imagine the potential consequences of something like this happening in a professional environment, in a client meeting, amongst your peers. This re-iterates the importance of listening. has a great online section on Listening, including the 10 key principles of listening I share below

“ Listening is the ability to accurately receive messages in
the communication process. Listening is key to all effective
communication, without the ability to listen effectively messages are
easily misunderstood – communication breaks down and the sender
of the message can easily become frustrated or irritated. “


1. Stop Talking

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Mark Twain.

Don’t talk, listen. When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop, just listen. When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.


2. Prepare Yourself to Listen

Relax. Focus on the speaker. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts – what’s for lunch, what time do I need to leave to catch my train, is it going to rain – try to put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.


3. Put the Speaker at Ease

Help the speaker to feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.


4. Remove Distractions

Focus on what is being said: don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window, pick your fingernails or similar. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. These behaviours disrupt the listening process and send messages to the speaker that you are bored or distracted.


5. Empathise

Try to understand the other person’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathise with the speaker. If the speaker says something that you disagree with, then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.


6. Be Patient

A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time, sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.


7. Avoid Personal Prejudice

Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and don’t let the person’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what they are really saying. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking – others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.


8. Listen to the Tone

Volume and tone both add to what someone is saying. A good speaker will use both volume and tone to their advantage to keep an audience attentive; everybody will use pitch, tone and volume of voice in certain situations – let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.


9. Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words

You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions, and focus this becomes easier.


10. Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication

Gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.




“ Do not jump to conclusions about what you see and hear. You should always seek clarification to ensure that your understanding is correct.”


At TBS, we have built our success not just on hearing what our clients say, or simply saying

what they want to hear, but we have built a business around listening, and providing a

better service because we take time to understand what we have heard, and put that

understanding at the heart of everything we do, from software development, to systems

administration, to knowledge process outsourcing, to product support.

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