You walk into the bosses office and he has his email open, desk full of papers, is on his speaker to assistant. You sit down to go over a very important project you are working on while he continues to work on his email, get interrupted by his assistant, and his cell phone rings.
Or perhaps you walk into you bosses office to discuss a very important problem. She is very happy to listen to you – or so you think. You start talking, but then she interrupts you,and starts talking. You keep trying to get the conversation back to why you came, but it never gets there. You leave the office frustrated.
And then there is the boss who you talk to, but get no response, no body language, no real movement. You keep talking but he is somewhere else and totally non-responsive.
Now I know none of you are guilty of these things? Right?
How many people do you know who really know how to listen? I mean they know how to shut up and let the other person talk. I mean they simply ask a question or two and let you talk. I mean they don’t interrupt or sit their just waiting for a break to say something. They totally listen to you.
Dean Rusk said it very simply, “One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears by listening to them.” Wow? You think that is leadership? What would happen if you really started to listen to your team. Would it make a difference?
Listening and leadership is not something new, or something I came up with. Actually, when I typed “Leadership and Listening” into my web browser I found on the Internet 33,600 related references. It must be a popular subject.
The Apostle James put it every well when he said, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”, James 1:19. Quick to hear -how many of us practice that one? We are always so quick to talk, especially in leadership roles, we want to talk. Picture your listening as an upside down pyramid. The higher you go in the organization, the more you have to listen.
Let’s look at a few simple listening skills that you as a leader should be practicing every day.
As a leader, you have to be a great listener. So step one is very simple, Give your full attention to the person who is speaking. Stop multi-tasking when you should be listening. Resist the temptation to feel like you must be doing something “productive” during your time with team members. You see, you are actually doing something productive, you are listening and creating a great relationship.
Second you need to stay focused. You see effective listening involves not just hearing, but understanding. Ask probing questions. Some people say listen twice as much as you talk, others say three times, I say listen 90% of the time. It is very critical you ask questions – keep the other person talking. You see he who asks the questions controls the conversation
One of the great techniques I use to teach people was that when interviewing for a job, you need to change the process from the interviewer asking you questions to you asking the questions. It is simply amazing what will happen, You switch from them interviewing you, to you doing the interviewing. What happens is they walk away form the interview thinking how great you are. It really does work. People simple love to talk, it is a fact of life.
Third, don’t start building answers before you are finished listening. This is why if you work with me you will notice I take many so notes – because I am listening. And because I am using the gap between the rate of speech and your rate of thought- you can think faster than people can talk – this is why you have a tendency to wonder. This is why you can take notes and pay attention. This is always why people think they can multi task when they really can’t.
Fourth, be responsive both verbally and bodily. This is what is called active listening. Making sure the person you are talking with knows not just that you are listening, but more that you are paying attention and taking in what they are saying.
A final point for the leader. Never forget that listening is different for different age groups. From Newsweek article by Carmine Gallo dated 1/31/2007, “One-quarter of “Generation X” employees (born between 1965 and 1979) considered it very important to get feedback from their boss at least once a week, if not every day, while only 11% of “traditionalists” (born between 1928 and 1945) desired that level of communication. Clearly, times have changed and so have employee attitudes. Today’s employee wants to be asked for feedback and he wants to be heard.
The first letter in leadership is “L” which stands for listening. As the leader, you have to become a great listener.
By Logan Little