15 May The Art of Listening in Leadership
Why is listening in leadership important? The answer might seem obvious but ask yourself it anyway. As a people leader and the person with the most information, highest number of relationships and knowledge about your team and company, it can be very easy to believe you know at all times what is best. After all, your job is about making those kinds of decisions.
Add in all the stresses that come with the role including the pace and you might find yourself consistently making swift decisions without consulting your people because you don’t have the time or you are pretty confident they are the best ones to make. So, we will ask again, and this time we will answer.
Why Is Listening in leadership Important?
- Shows Respect – On a fundamental but vital level, listening to your people shows them that you respect them. Taking this a step further, this makes them feel valued. Both of these are very relevant when it comes to workflow, work environment and great work relationships.
- Valuable Insight – We cannot stress enough about how your people have the answers to your companies problems. They are the knowledge source, but you must listen to them to attain this valuable information.
- Gaining Trust – Take a moment to think of your personal life and someone you confide in. When you are telling them something important to you, they are generally someone you feel safe telling because they listen to you and you trust them. You are building this rapport between you and your people by listening. By deepening the trust, the more you’ll know about what’s going on and how best to support them.
- Strengthening Connections – Truly listening to your people will grow your relationship with them. From communication to productivity, it works towards building the right kind of community and culture.
How Do We Do It Successfully?
1. Create Space
Listening in leadership starts with creating the right environment. This goes for when we are meeting in person again or for a distributed team. Shut the door, put your phone on silent, turn off notifications and limit distractions. People need to feel secure and at the focus of the interaction.
2. Actively Listen
This means far more than physically listening. The majority of our communication is non-verbal. Taking the fact that most people might only see you from the shoulders up online, this is extra important to be aware of. You need to show you are listening regardless of how much of you they can see. Holding eye contact is crucial. Make sure your stance is receptive. If it’s only a call, use pausing and your tone to show you are present.
3. Resist Temptation
Have a separate browser if you need for your calls to limit distraction. Whatever you require to ensure you don’t respond if something or someone external demands your attention, do it. Keep in mind that every notification is going to feel like you need to respond, but your focus needs to be on the person you are meeting with. If this chain of communication breaks, it disrupts its flow, risks conflict and prevents the ideal outcome of the engagement from coming into fruition.
4. Don’t Judge
A great deal of our working lives is about being assessed, so it’s natural for your people to be fearful of expressing themselves to you. It’s up to you to create a space where your people can give their feedback, and that starts with not being judged for it.
5. Never Assume
Even if you feel like you know this person well, never make any assumptions about what they are saying. Don’t fill in the gaps yourself or assume you know what they meant by something if you aren’t one hundred per cent sure. Always ask for clarification. Ensure you have the correct takeaways from the meeting.
6. Ask Questions
When asking questions, and it’s vital that you do, make sure they are directly related to what the person said. Timing is everything here and reaffirms strong listening by asking the right questions at the right times. And don’t be afraid to make valid suggestions based on what you hear. This technique further builds a healthy working relationship. Use this as an opportunity to deepen the conversation, your understanding and to show you are listening.
You aren’t expected to solve everything you hear on the spot. But you can and should reassure the person that you will follow up on what was discussed – and do. While you take the time to decide and act on the best course of action, keep them abreast of the situation alongside this.
Author Stephen R. Covey says “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Remember that you are always listening in leadership with the intent of understanding. This will not only inform your reply but your response. Overall, there is no good reason not to listen. But it isn’t instantly the easiest thing to do. It’s a practice. Therefore it needs it. And from building trust to what you learn, it is a practice that is entirely worth it.