Listening in Leadership

Has this ever happened to you? You had a meeting with one of your team members about a work assignment and felt it was a productive conversation with all of your points articulated clearly; what you expected the other person to do and when they should complete it it. Based on that conversation, you assumed your team member would follow through on what was agreed upon. A few days passed, and then a week – nothing – no follow through. What happened?


There are a lot of possible reasons for that outcome, but today, consider this possibility: You weren't listening actively. If that's the case, you might have missed important elements of what the other person wanted  to tell you. It’s also a possibility that as a person in authority, you may have “steamrolled” the other person, causing them to agree with you in the conversation, but walk away with a completely different intent. There is a difference between hearing and actually listening. There are several indicators that you or your managers can monitor to practice the discipline of REALLY listening intently to your team members..


First, if you’re thinking of what you’re going to say next during a conversation with someone, you’re probably not really listening to what they’re saying in that moment. We call this problem competitive listening. Second, if a leader or manager is talking for more than 60-seconds at a time, there’s a good chance they may be dominating the conversation. Paying attention to this important indicator can help you follow the 70-30 rule which means listening 70% of the time and only talking 30% of the time.


Finally, consider this. To the average person, anything more than two seconds of silence can seem like an eternity to them which will tempt them to jump in and start talking or keep talking. A leader who is a great listener will embrace that silence to give the other person time to reflect, feedback and continue sharing.  


Here's a process that will help your managers listen actively during discussions with their team members:


Step One: Recognize the real goal of all your communication. When we communicate, we have a strong need to be understood and acknowledged. That means Step One is letting the other person know that she has been heard and understood!


Step Two: Send subtle signals that say, "I hear you, I'm paying attention," as the other person speaks. When you’re having a conversation, how do you let the other person know that you are listening and understand what he or she is saying? Try nodding your head or say, "I see," "OK," or "I understand," each time she makes a point.


Step Three: Before making points of your own, restate key content to prove you were really listening and really do understand what was said. There are two ways to do this. You can paraphrase what your teammate just told you and feedback to them what you heard them say in your words. An even stronger technique is to use restatement which is to restate exactly what the person just told you, using their exact words. When doing this, be sure to ask for confirmation that you did in-fact hear them correctly and be open to any clarification if you didn’t hear it correctly.  


Here's an example of Step Three in action:


Team member: We’re having trouble with our maintenance vendor on the packaging machine. We’ve had them out twice and it’s still not working right. At this point, our production schedule is two days behind and we’re way behind on shipping orders.


Leader: It sounds like you’re frustrated because you’ve isolated the problem with the packaging machine but aren’t getting any help from the vendor on repairs – so now you’re worried that orders aren’t being filled and your feeling pressure because the production schedule is getting pushed out multiple days – am I hearing you right? Did I miss anything?


Notice that your summary may incorporate the speaker's exact phrases and statements, or you can paraphrase them.


When you and your leadership team follow these three simple steps, you’re much more likely to understand the true intent of what the other person is saying. By sending the right subtle "I'm listening" signals as the other person is speaking, and restating key content to prove you really were listening, you'll have better conversations, more accurate information to make decisions with and build stronger relationships with your teammates.






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