Have you ever wondered why of all the ways we can communicate that listening, in my opinion, is the most important?
Listening is one of the most difficult competencies, because it asks we take our own
thoughts and hold them to the light of our own scrutiny. Listening involves hearing,
then understanding and communicating that understanding back to the person you
are listening to. Listening is not focusing on your own thoughts, ideas, beliefs and expectations. For a leader this can be near impossible, because our thoughts, expectations and ideas form the basis for our success and strengthens this behavior through which it our success has been created.
Effective leaders are GOOD listeners. Think back – what highly effective leader have you
known who is a poor listener? When was the last time you complained about a superior because he/she was a good listener?
Funny thing, but most people do not go to a leader to be heard; in fact, they look to their leader to talk to them. Most people would prefer not to talk when their leader is near; they want to listen to what their leader has to say. So what you observe is leaders evolving into talkers the longer they are leaders. It is, therefore, important for a leader to be able to listen and ask questions, preferably in the reverse order, because asking questions will start the other party talking, after which you can start listening.
So what can you do to become a better listener? Here are a few basics and a game to play.
First the basics:
- Ask questions. In addition, ask questions in response to questions. Why? It makes people feel as though they count.
- DO NOT interrupt while your question is being answered. Sit back and fight
the urge. Understand the answer before you move forward.
- DO NOT even think about your next question while listening; the instant you do so is the moment you stop listening.
- Solicit feedback and take action on the feedback. Solicit opinions and discuss them. Taking action means you listened.
- Focus intently – listen more, talk less. Maintain eye contact.
Lastly, the Questioning Game. The rules are quite simple. Your job in any conversation you choose is to only ask questions in response to what the person who is talking said
to you. In addition, the question has to be directly related to what they just said to you. You cannot change the subject; if you need to make a comment, make it but add a question to the end of the comment (a tag question as we call it). The tag question can be as simple as “Do you agree?” The point here is staying in the moment and focusing intently on the
person with whom you are engaged (the “critical” word here) in conversation.
Leadership is almost entirely a communication activity. Naturally, effective leaders communicate clearly, in a timely fashion, keep employees informed and listen empathically. Effective leaders “walk the talk” by taking actions that are consistent over time and with what they say. In addition, clear focus and direction with the ability to communicate clearly is the “hallmark” of effective leadership.
There is a relationship between effective leadership and effective listening skills. Effective leaders hear what others have to say and empathize with their issues. Actively listening to and empathizing with what people have to say are two of the important qualities of effective leaders. True leaders know how to listen. They possess crucial qualities that promote positive work relations, inspire trust, and bolster the “bottom line.” Effective leaders recognize people have a need to be heard. Empathy is as valued as the willingness to listen.
Finally, the need for listening skills is to assure alignment has been reached. Question, rephrase, question and confirm. Without using the listening skills discussed here people will assume they have reached alignment and agreement but, in reality, have agreed on different issues resulting in the breakdown of intention and outcome.
Communication is not just speaking and writing clearly. It’s about open and focused listening, too.
Bill Donnelly is a Managing Director of Oak & Apple Partners. In addition, he is a certified Executive Coach and Master Mentor. Working with companies that are underperforming and financially distressed he provides a parallel path to profitability and behavior modification to sustain the company well into the future. If you and your company
are underperforming, call Bill at 973-970-2600 ext. 101 to set up a no cost, no
obligation meeting to discuss your situation.