” L” is for Listen
Our final segment on REAL leadership is about the importance of being able to LISTEN.
The ability to LISTEN and listen well is a behavioural skill of vital importance for all leaders and managers to develop and keep sharp.
If you doubt this, think for a moment about how you feel when you are not listened to. For example, when you are talking to someone on the telephone and you can hear them tapping on their keyboard, or when you are talking to someone who keeps looking at their device screen. Contrast this to a time when someone was giving you their full attention and really listening to you. How did that feel? Which person would you rather follow?
The ability to listen well is especially relevant in times like we are in now. Listening well and with intent reinforces your commitment to your employees, and fosters an environment of inclusion, respect, trust and safety.
Conscious listening is more than simply getting feedback and ideas from your employees. Effective listening creates positive exchanges and opportunities to demonstrate by your actions that you genuinely care and value their input. In addition, when you focus on the person as well as their work, you show your care, concern, and respect for them as individuals and as people. This can add up to a team of people who are engaged and motivated to do their very best work.
However, not all listening is created equal. There is a big difference between active listening and simply hearing. Active listening is intentional and focused. It requires effort. When we listen actively, we are paying close attention to the person speaking, not only to their words, but to their tone, their facial expressions and other body language and so on. In this level of listening, our mind is active, thinking about what is being said and perhaps formulating questions or responses.
Listening, at its highest level, is about being present. When we are fully present in the conversation, our mind becomes still. We are not planning our response or internally debating the points raised. We are simply quiet and present. We remain focused on the other person. At this level of receptivity, we may notice many things we might otherwise miss. Our responses to the speaker arise naturally, at the appropriate moment, without being pre-planned. Listening at this level will add depth to almost any conversation. Just imagine being on the receiving side of a conversation like that.
Conscious listening is a fundamental life skill. It means being aware of the level of listening we are bringing to the situation and choosing a level that is appropriate. What is this telling you? Are you paying attention to all of these? How in the moment and completely present are you in your conversations?
Three Ways to Increase Your LISTEN Skills
- Be Present: Being present starts with intent. Be intentional about listening actively whenever you engage in conversation. Still your mind to the extent possible and focus on the other person. Give the other person cues that you are present and listening such as making eye contact, nodding your head, and expressing encouragement to go on. Get into a listening mindset. Free yourself from distractions. Close the office door, turn off your devices, email, telephone, etc. so that you can focus on the other person completely and without interruption.
- Be Authentic: Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be, and embracing who we are, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. You demonstrate your authenticity:
- When you listen intently, checking to confirm you have understood what they have said.
- When you ask people for suggestions and input and thank them for information shared.
- When follow up is required or action to be taken, you do it and then make sure they hear back.
- When you don’t have the answer, you are honest and tell them you don’t have the answer, but will tell them when you do.
- When you don’t have the answer, you ask what they think and discuss their feedback
- When you are grateful for the opportunities these conversational exchanges present.
- Be Curious: Ask questions. Listen to the answers. A simple enough recipe for success. While telling has a place on the continuum, asking questions shows you are curious and interested in the other person’s point of view. Peter Drucker said, “The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask.” Asking makes sense when you want to stimulate thinking, new ideas, increased engagement, shared responsibility, and team effort.
However, all questions are not created equal. Closed-ended questions are good when you are seeking data, facts, or when time is short. Open-ended questions often start with words like what, how, who, and where, and are useful when you want to stimulate awareness or promote responsibility. Asking clarifying questions shows you are paying attention and that you sincerely want to ensure you are following and understanding the conversation correctly.
Be comfortable to ask questions to find out what’s working and what’s not. Be comfortable to ask these questions in two contexts, external and internal. Here are examples of questions I have heard great leaders use to solicit both external and internal feedback. (The questions can be modified depending on who you are asking.)
- What’s working well in (insert context)
- What’s not working as well and affects our success (insert context)
- How can we improve how we work together?
- What resources can be leveraged more effectively?
- How can I or the organization do better for you?
- How can I or the organization improve my/our support?
- What are we the best at what we do?
- What are the biggest opportunities facing us now? (and in the next 3 to 5 years)
- What are the biggest challenges facing us now? (and in the next 3 to 5 years)
How Good are Your Listening Skills?
How would you rate your listening skills? Take a few moments to read though the table below and rate each statement with the following score:
1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree
Then add your score to see how good your listening skills are.
|How good are your listening skills?||Score|
|I daydream or think about other things when others are speaking to me.|
|I do not summarize the ideas being communicated by the speaker.|
|I do not use body language or tone of voice to help interpret what he or she is saying.|
|I have a hard time paying attention to boring people.|
|I stop listening when I think someone has nothing interesting left to say|
|I pretend to pay attention even when I’m not really listening.|
|I get easily distracted when listening to others.|
|I am thinking ahead about what to say next when speaking with others.|
|I respond to my phone, email, or other interruptions immediately even when in a conversation with another person.|
|I do not ask the person I am speaking with good clarifying questions.|
|Good listening skills||10-23|
|Moderately Good listening skills||23-36|
|Poor listening skills||37-50|
How did you rate your Listening Skills? Are they Good, Moderately Good, or Poor? What do you most need to work on? Which of the “Three Ways to Increase Your LISTENING Skills” do you think will most help you increase your leadership effectiveness? What impact will increasing your listening skills have on your ability to Relate, Engage and Adapt, the other three areas of REAL Leadership?
I’m here to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. Feel free to share all or any part of the REAL Leadership series with your team or others who might benefit. We’re all in this together, and in these times, it is even more important than ever as Leaders to help your organizations move forward positively and with agility.
How committed are you to becoming a more effective leader, a REAL Leader? It’s an ongoing journey. Where are you?
Here’s to getting REAL.
Best and please be safe and healthy!