Posted: Wed 10th Mar 2021
Failing to effectively listen to our teams, peers, customers or suppliers is not necessarily a deliberate act of ignorance.
It's a much more subtle, insidious habit that creeps in as leaders come under pressure with an increased workload, deadlines looming, mistakes happening; all taking the leader's focus away from the team members. Little by little, we stop listening.
Below are a few key indicators that active listening is being employed. Which of these examples have you witnessed yourself doing?
Interrupting someone in mid-sentence to correct them, to disagree with them or to finish the sentence for them
Cutting across someone with noises of disapproval
Jumping in with 'No' or 'But'
Impatiently waiting for someone to finish talking so that you can jump in with your point of view
Presenting body language that says, 'Please finish - and quickly', or making disapproving facial expressions
Projecting stereotypical expectations on to the person talking
Spending the whole time when someone is talking to with your mind on other things like considering what you want to say, thinking about your next meeting, day-dreaming about something else completely, scanning the room, checking notes, your phone or laptop
If you are doing these things, you are not listening. Not really listening.
By not listening we stifle motivation, creative thinking and confidence, which can lead our team to withdraw and stop sharing altogether. Conversely, when we exhibit this active listening skill, we build a virtuous cycle, creating heightened motivation, increased engagement and that all-desirable loyalty. We have better-performing, happier people, and customers and clients who want to stay.
I have witnessed absolute superstars at listening. I remember every single one of them fondly. I wanted to perform for them, and I wanted to help them succeed even when the going got tough. Good listening skills are truly an advantage and a skill worth nurturing.
The good news is that good listening skills can be developed, and you could be the leader that everyone loves to communicate with. Your teams will become truly empowered and you will develop a vast network of people that want to spend time with you.
To cultivate the skill of listening, here are a few tips to try out:
Maintain regular eye contact
Smile and use open body language
Avoid anticipating what is about to be said (even unconsciously)
Ignore the compulsion to interrupt to defend or justify yourself
Keep an open mind (quiet the part of your brain that says it won't work, or it's wrong)
Let go of the ego - you have nothing to prove here
Breathe - and continue breathing deeply to help you maintain your equilibrium
And you don't need to agree with what is being said. Simply acknowledge them for taking the time to share. And say 'thank you'!
Guess what? It isn't important if the idea isn't going to work or is just plain wrong, costs too much money or any of those other alarms that could be going off in your head. They will come to that conclusion for themselves if you give them the space to develop the ideas.
A key question to ask yourself each time you get the urge to interrupt someone's flow is, "Is it worth it?" Is that thing I feel compelled to say really adding value and is it elevating the other person in this conversation?
Your main purpose is to listen! Make that person feel valued and that they have a role in moving the organisation forward.
It will take practice to 'be present', and listening in this way, but you will get so much payback. And you know what? It feels great for both parties; even generating that dopamine hit! Coaching is a leading source of support and guidance when it comes to perfecting listening skills.
What if you were that leader that everyone gravitated towards?
What if your team relished the chance to share their ideas with you?
What if they wanted to help you succeed?
And what if your team's motivation stood out from the rest?
When is the next opportunity you have to try this out and what do you have to lose by really listening to the next person who engages with you?
Good luck and enjoy it.