“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey
A good listener tries to understand thoroughly what the other person is saying. In the end the listener may disagree sharply. However, before voicing disagreement, the active listener wants to know exactly what the other person is saying and why.
What is active listening?
Merriam-Webster defines “active” as “characterized by action rather than by contemplation,” and “listening” as “hearing something with thoughtful attention.”
Active listening is a habit, as well as the foundation of effective communication. A good listener is able to repeat in his own words what another person has said, satisfying the person that they are understood. This does not mean agreeing with what the other person is saying. Ask clarifying questions in order to ensure full understanding of the other person’s intention.
Why is active listening important?
Every person who is on an FMEA team is there for a reason. They represent an expertise that is needed on the FMEA team. When they provide their input, the team leader and the entire team should listen to what they are saying. This is basic respect. If you are not listening to what is being said, you are disrespecting the person who is talking, and their contribution is not taken into account.
How should active listening be applied during FMEA meetings?
In the first article in the FMEA facilitation series, I mentioned that one of the roles of an FMEA facilitator is to help the team members do their best thinking. By actively encouraging team members to listen to each other, the opportunity for deep discussion is possible. Here are a few ways to use active listening during FMEA meetings.
- The FMEA team leader should actively listen to anyone on the FMEA team who is talking. To be certain you understand what they are saying, you can put the concept into your own words and ask if you have it right. Be a good role model by actively listening to each person when they are talking.
- Each FMEA team member should actively listen to anyone who is talking. You can use the same technique of putting what is being said into your own words to be sure you understand. This takes focus and concentration.
- The team leader can insist that people listen to each other. First, by not allowing interruptions, and second by asking team member A what they think about what was said by team member B.
What scenarios should be avoided?
The FMEA facilitator must intervene if people are talking over each other or if people are clearly not listening to each other. One of the values of an FMEA team is the discussion that occurs around important issues. When people are not listening to each other, the FMEA results are not beneficial.
Management consultant Peter Drucker says, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Part of listening is to create an environment where people feel free to offer their views. Engage the entire team by asking probing questions and listening to what people have to say.
How should decisions be made in an FMEA? Should the team defer to the senior member? Is compromise the best technique? What about voting? In the next article, the skill of decision making is discussed, including determining an effective course of action that is supported by all team members.