YKK Stories

2017-09-25 Issue 16 Fundamental Behavior 15 – Listen to Understand

February 19, 2019
Author: YKK
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I’m going to take a different approach in my message this week about Behavior #15, “Listen to understand.” For the past 14 weeks I have written a message intended for everyone. This week I want to speak only to you … yes, you. To no one else.

As you read this message, you will think I’m not speaking to you. You’ll think I’m speaking to someone else. In fact, you’ll probably think you know exactly the person to whom I’m speaking. But you’re wrong. My message is to you.

Here’s what I want to say … to you: You don’t listen as well as you could or as well as you should. Don’t feel badly, though, because I don’t either, and neither do our colleagues or our husbands or wives or children or friends. We all could listen more effectively. A wise person said, “It’s why we have two ears but only one mouth.”

But for the moment, let’s think about how well you listen. Do you honestly “listen to understand”? You’re certain you do, aren’t you? Please answer a few questions first. When someone is speaking with you, are you listening to every word she/he says, including the last few words of her/his last sentence, or are you already thinking about what you’re going to say? Or do you get so excited about sharing your brilliant idea that you interrupt her/him because what you have to say is so much more interesting? Please be honest with yourself. Like me, you’re probably guilty.

When someone is telling you about something that recently happened in her or his life, do you automatically think, “You think that’s something, wait until I tell you what happened to ME!” Are your first words about what they said, or about what you are certain will top their experience and no doubt be much more interesting? We all do it, but my hope is that we will try not to do it so often.

When people say something do you, do the first words out of your mouth prove to them that you heard and understood what they said, or do you simply talk about what’s on your mind? For example, if someone says, “Yesterday I was driving home from work and was stuck in traffic behind an accident for 30 minutes causing me to miss my son’s baseball game,” do you say, “That must have been terribly frustrating. I know how important your son’s game must have been to you,” or do you say, “You think that’s bad … last week I was driving to Atlanta and was stuck behind an accident for 2 hours!”? In other words, you are saying, “I really am not very concerned about your son’s baseball game.” Effective listening requires us to prove that we were listening to what the other person said before we talk about anything else, and certainly before we get into anything resembling “my story is more interesting than yours.”

Let me circle back to my beginning of this message. You can listen more effectively. If your friends were honest with you, they would say something to you about it because you have hurt their feelings on more than one occasion, but they don’t want to hurt your feelings or embarrass you. We all could listen more empathetically and more sincerely. Please suspend any “He’s not describing me!” thoughts, and for just a few minutes, think about what I’ve written, consider that just maybe it could apply to you, and hopefully you (and I) will practice listening more effectively.

Remember: When people are speaking with you, first listen to what they are saying instead of thinking about what you’re going to say; then make sure you listen to the end of their sentence. When you do speak, always acknowledge what they said by saying something to prove that you heard them. And finally, make sure you’re not trying to top their story with your own exciting experience. Allow them to be the focus of your attention.

Effective listening takes practice. I will be very interesting in learning about the discussions you and your colleagues (and maybe your friends and family members) will have about this week’s topic, “Listen to understand.” We all can learn more from listening than from speaking.



Alex Gregory
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America