Blog Title: Are You Listening? Are you REALLY Listening? By Ashley Dooley, GPC

From a very early age, we are taught to multitask. It seems embedded in the American culture of go-go-go and do-do-do. You may be eating lunch and socializing with friends, or watching a sporting event while taking a business call, or cooking dinner while helping your kids with homework. You probably do not even catch yourself multitasking, because it happens so frequently.

A Harvard Business Review article from over a decade ago points to a multi-decade study showing that multitasking is ineffective. In summary, “multitaskers do less and miss information,” according to more than fifty years of cognitive science research and studies on multitasking.

So, it is time to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Be mindful and present in each activity of your day. Do not try to get more done by having a phone conversation and answering emails at once. You will end up missing information as your brain tries to focus on two things at once. By focusing on one thing – verbal conversation – you can be a better listener.

The word listen is both a noun and a verb, but what does it mean? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, listening is “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” When you multitask, is it easy to pay thoughtful attention? From experience, I would say no. You may nod your head, occasionally say “uh, huh,” or chime in with a comment. Chances are your head is focused on the alternate task you are doing or thinking about what you want to say next, so you are not hearing everything you should.

I challenge you to try an active listening exercise the next time you consciously recognize you are multitasking when someone starts speaking with you. This requires you to stop the alternate task, gain eye contact with the speaker in front of you (unless they are on the phone), and pay thoughtful attention to their message. The next step, which is so often missed in verbal communication, is to paraphrase the speaker’s message as you heard it and affirm with the speaker that you heard their message correctly. Only after you do this should you take the opportunity to ask a clarifying question, share advice, or otherwise chime in on what the speaker was saying. It may feel awkward at first, but your coworkers, clients, spouse, or friends will appreciate your thoughtful attention to the information they are trying to share with you.

Communication is a key component to successful teamwork for grant professionals. If you are interested in more communication skills, AGS has a training in Motivational Interviewing that combines active listening with specific strategies to help positively influence information-seeking conversations.

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development

Skill 3.1: Identify methods of soliciting and incorporating meaningful substantive input and contributions by stakeholders

Skill 3.2: Identify methods of building partnerships and facilitating collaborations among co-applicants

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