I believe most leaders are brilliant listeners…when they think it’s important to really listen. Unfortunately, too many leaders are in such a hurry to put out the next fire or juggle another project, they convince themselves they already know what their co-worker, client or family member is going to say. As a result, these leaders spend more time listening to confirm rather than learn.
When you think you ‘know it all’, the natural response is to provide a solution, give advice or just pretend to listen. In these situations, the individual who wanted their leader to learn more about their facts and feelings got a lecturer instead of a listener.
The next time someone important to you needs to be heard, think about this quote from John Wooden:
“What you learn after you think you know it all is what really matters.”
The real problem with the poor quality of listening in our organizations is that the people being led have accepted the fact their leaders are too busy or preoccupied to listen. Cell phones, texts and emails are a constant source of interruption. Instead of voicing a complaint, most individuals become disengaged and cynical or decide to take their talent or business to a new team. The first time a leader realizes their lack of listening is a problem, it’s often too late to make a change. The relationship has been damaged or in some cases destroyed.
So many of our one-on-one interactions are wasted because we never get below the surface of what someone is trying to say. It’s like a stone skipping across the water. We jump from topic to topic without ever going deep enough to really have a meaningful dialogue. The speaker shares, the leader judges and the conversation ends.
If you want to be a better listener to the people in your world, you need to make not listening unacceptable. And you will have to hold yourself accountable for listening because no one else will.
Are you ready to start listening to learn something new? If you are, ask yourself, “What co-worker, client or family member needs me to listen a little longer? How would I and the other person benefit if I choose not to give them quick advice or a lecture but just give them the opportunity to share what’s on their heart and mind?” Now schedule a one-on-one meeting with that person as soon as possible.
Remember, the people you work with and live with don’t need you to solve all their problems, but they do need to know you care enough about them to invest the time and energy required to really listen to their ideas, goals, fears, and challenges.
Adding these positive habits to your listening routine will bring out the best in you and the person speaking to you:
Find something the speaker says that you are sincerely interested in.
Keep your mind focused on the person and their area of interest (you can multi-task with things, but not people).
Treat all conversations and people as though they were important.
Respect other people’s opinions, especially when they are different than yours.
Allow people time to complete their thoughts.
Take a breath before making a statement; and during that moment of silence, decide if you are better off asking a clarifying question rather than giving your opinion.
Listen to learn something new or to really understand someone at a much deeper level.
Encourage others to say more about their opinion when you agree or disagree with their idea so you can get in-depth knowledge about their point of view.
Have patience with people during conversations (many individuals have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings).
Be empathetic. Having sincere empathy will automatically create the kind of body language that communicates you really care about the person.
Use positive words and phrases that encourage others to say more about their thoughts and feelings.
Have the courage to say, “NO, I can’t listen right now, let’s set up another time to talk.” Letting someone know you’re not available to listen and willing to schedule a future meeting is much more considerate than letting the person speak while your mind is on something else.
You can become a better listener starting today. All it takes is a desire and a commitment to practice on a daily basis. Before you know it, your listening will improve and you’ll start discovering new ways to help your co-workers, clients and family flourish. You will also hear…”Thanks for listening” more often.
Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin