The Bagg Group on the truth about listening – it’s hard work


In an age where we spend so much time listening – to movies, TV, music, YouTube, etc.–– it’s easy to forget there’s more to listening than just lending an ear.  Instead, to tune in takes energy, effort and focus, as anyone who has ever interviewed candidates will know.  You might just be sitting there while someone talks, but genuine listening is anything but passive.

At The Bagg Group, we have plenty of experience with active listening.  After all, we’ve interviewed umpteen thousands of candidates over our 40-plus year history to place almost 60,000 people successfully in full-time, contract and temporary positions.  We can confirm what behavioural scientists caution:  When a listener isn’t truly paying attention, the speaker senses it and shuts down.

An often-quoted US study about the relationship between doctors and patients makes the point.  A survey found patients in waiting rooms had, on average, four major questions for their doctors.  However, when they sat down with their physicians, face-to-face, they asked only an average of 1.5 questions.

Why?  Patients felt doctors weren’t actively listening to them.  As a result, patients held back their comments and questions.  The outcome is that patients didn’t share info that could have been valuable for their doctors to know.

But certainly, physicians aren’t the only ones who don’t always listen hard.  Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth conducted a global survey of 16,500 people that shows when we’re at work, our minds wander 50% of the time.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we got a pay off from having our thoughts dart all over the place like a hummingbird.  But Killingsworth found that being inattentive doesn’t work for anyone –not the candidates we interview – and not for us.  He discovered, “People are substantially less happy when mind wandering, no matter what they’re doing.”

Communication experts have identified two levels of listening, and one of these brings happier results than the other:

Level one:  We hear the words, but our focus is on ourselves. We only listen to answer the question, “What do the words mean for me?”

Level two:  Our focus is entirely on the other person.  Often in level two, the listener’s body language reveals their interest –they may lean forward and make more eye contact.

At The Bagg Group, we know that level two listening is what it takes to develop rapport and prompt people to open up.   And we need candidates to open up to help us assess if they would be happy and productive in a particular work culture.

Writing in the Harvard Business Journal, Edward Hallowell calls the rapport that comes from active listening a “human moment.”  He insists these interactions don’t take more time, only more attention.  And like The Bagg Group recruiters, he concludes these human moments yield great information and collaboration.

“A five-minute conversation can be a perfectly meaningful human moment,” writes Hallowell. “To make the human moment work, you have to set aside what you’re doing, put down the memo you were reading, disengage from your laptop, abandon your daydream, and focus on the person you’re with. Usually when you do that, the other person will feel the energy and respond in kind. Together, you quickly create a force field of exceptional power.”

Active listening (which ensures “a human moment”) is essential for anyone who wants to attract and retain great talent.  People want to work for those who let them know they are truly being heard.

Stay tuned for upcoming Bagg Group tried-and-true tips on how to listen actively to candidates during long days of non-stop interviews.

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