We must never forget that the most powerful communication isn’t what you say, it’s what you do. What counts, in the final analysis, is not what people are told but what they accept. It is this concept of the role of communication in industry that characterizes effective leadership. – Frank E. Fischer
The majority of people who are considered excellent conversationalists will tell you that they spend far more time listening than speaking. They also ask questions of clarification, making sure they fully understand what is being said before contributing their own thoughts about the topic. This as you may know is easier said than done. It takes practice, practice and more practice.
Chances are when you are participating in a conversation you are listening from a defensive posture to interject you views at the expense of the other individual. Part of the reason for this is that we are emotionally bonded to our views. Believing in your views is a good thing except when the evidence suggests that they are not correct. Don’t be so possessive of your views that you will not change them in a heart beat when presented with contrary evidence.
The best way to ensure that you are listening completely is to imagine that your mind’s inner voice is a tape recorder. As the person speaks repeat everything that is said in your mind’s inner voice. This process helps you in a variety of ways: you are not going to interrupt the conversation prematurely because you are repeating what is said in your mind, you are increasing you understanding of the issue because you first hear it, then repeat it.
The next step is to ask questions of clarification or check for understanding. Once the question is asked start the process all over again. Continue this process until the other person has finished. Once you fully understand the other person’s position or point of view you can begin to present your view.
This process takes time however the long term benefits are that you will be considered a leader who is trustworthy, understanding, supportive and accepted by the people who you supervise and your supervisors. You will immediately distinguish yourself as a leader worthy of being followed.
There will be times, when it is not possible to have a two way conversation, to gather ideas, suggestions and options. One way communication should be reserved for emergencies, deadlines, directives and after you have considered all the views, options, and suggestions of your team to make the final decision.
The final outcome is to make far more good decisions than poor judgments. If things do go wrong, bring your team together to review how the poor outcome could have been avoided and prevent it from occurring next time. Some may call this process quality improvement and others call it an after action report. It doesn’t matter what you call it; the process is what is important.
Your success as a leader depends on how good a listener you are and the quality of your questions. You may think that as a leader you should control the conversation and wonder how that can be done when you are repeating everything that is said in your mind and asking clarification questions. Think of it this way when you ask an informed question based upon what you have heard and repeated aren’t you really determining the direction of the conversation?
Active listening, mentally repeating what is said and asking clarification questions is a win, win process for everyone involved.
By John Hester