From an early age we have all heard the analogy, from our parents that “you were given two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak”. So true is this lesson in today’s business environment especially for the leaders in charge of company growth. The climate of growing business is more of a challenge under the anemic economic conditions facing every industry in the country. Additionally, in this new “the world is flat” environment so too is the communications cycle. In my last blog I wrote about the feedback loop and its importance in gauging the performance of your leadership skills. One of the most crucial aspects of feedback is demonstrating the ability to listen.
Let’s investigate the most common mistakes a leader can make in demonstrating their skill to be able to effectively listen. If your feedback loop surfaces any of these statements; now may be the time to sharpen your listen skills. Warning statements include; referring to cutting off people before they finish, interrupts to jump to a solution, appears not to be listening, demonstrates to others to be impatient and uninterested, or inaccurate in restating the case of others. Each one of these statements is a red flag that improving your listening skills is much needed.
Leaders of today’s marketplace must under all circumstances remain attentive and actively listening, have patience to hear people out, and demonstrate consistently the ability to accurately restate the opinions of others even when he/she disagrees.
Here are seven prompts for growth leaders to improve their listening skills:
- Demonstrate to others that you are sincerely listening, especially those that report to you by keeping your mouth closed and retaining good eye contact. Facial expressions must also be held in check. Currently, the digital world is the main form of communication, many viewpoints can be introduced to the conversation however reflecting on the history of the communication will make the dialogue remain on point.
- Listen for the direction of the conversation. Every growth leader is pressed for time, the job of developing people and growing their skills for new opportunities requires enormous energy. A key in not interrupting others is also avoiding the “wave off”, if you find yourself saying “Yes I know that”, or “Yes I’ve heard that before” then it’s time to take a step back from the conversation and pick out the highlights. You can improve your listening etiquette by responding with “Let me see if I know where this is going” or “I believe both of us can save time, if we could streamline the issues”.
- Good listeners ask a lot of questions to get a good understanding. Probing questions are the best which offer open-ended answers; allowing others to explain in detail. Clarifying questions can restate the obvious and be close-ended with either a yes or no answer. Locking in on a position is essential to grasping the intent of the conversation, therefore confirming questions begin with “Is this what you are trying to say….” Or by asking a question or two will further be a sign to others that you are truly listening to the content of the message.
- Listen to all without any preconceived notions. Listening is an artful skill developed over time, listening to those whom you normally don’t is a challenging endeavor under most circumstances. It’s human nature to listen more intently to the one’s we report to and listen slightly less to those that have little or not much to offer or are identified as complainers. Listen for trigger statements that will provide insight to the message, rather than blowing off those speaking, try to capture and summarize the direction, purpose and why they have relayed this message to you.
- Know how to manage those who could unintentionally waste a lot of time. With those you don’t have time to listen too, switch to becoming a coach. Assist them in a way to craft their communication to you in a more digestible way, such as through a matrix or chart. Sometimes by asking for a new format it will surface the underlying data to either support the message or to make the message a mute point. Another positive technique for dealing with chaos is to focus the message with common terms by requesting a quick sketch of the solution, it doesn’t have to be a Mona Lisa but a drawing can put direction and problem solving on the same path.
- Be able and ready to listen even if you’re being personally attacked. Assuming that people are wrong in what they are saying, all rules remain the same. You need to work on keeping yourself in a calm state when getting negative feedback. Face reality, all people should try to work together but at times the chemistry is wrong and it’s an oil/water mix. You need to shift your thinking. When getting feedback, your only task is to accurately understand what the person is trying to tell you. Do not attempt to refute at that time, your duty will be to absorb the energy of another and allow the venting and listen with clarifying questions. Your best bet in situations of harsh feedback is to continue with questions until the other person has run out of disparaging words. Separate personalities from the response and only address the message content.
- Place the conversation into your own mental totes. Invariably you will need to setup mental buckets for prioritizing and indentifying the content of the communication. More likely than not you will need to be agile and demonstrate the ability to guide those with disorganized messages to focus it with employing communication tools. Identify those wanting to be chatty by surfacing the important topics discussed. Redirect the efforts of those who want to unload a problem by summarizing. Handle chronic complainers with requests for them to write down the problem and solutions, then schedule a time to discuss the points written about, this to temper the volume and lighten the venom.
Each listening technique has its own time of use, and not just one fits all situations. Listening is one of the most sought after skills of growth leaders, but listening can form traps such as the over use of listening by spending too much time in listening, avoiding taking the necessary actions needed to solve problems, use ignoring as a method of management, and allowing listening to be confused with agreement on one position or another.
In summary, techniques of good listening are essential to growing and developing teams of performance. Growth leaders with the best performing teams tend to be able to listen, not interrupt, paraphrase the conversation and listen to identify the underlying meaning of others views. Growth leaders must be able to tactfully ask “where do we go from here?”
Do you have specific listening management tools you most favor to better understand a message or surface its intent? Would you say your leadership demonstrates a feedback approach fostering collaboration, how?