In this latest blog, our Head of Learning Solutions, Jennie, discusses the importance of listening before you speak and provides key steps on how to become a great listener.
Listening is a key characteristic of a true leader and is absolutely essential for your role within an organisation and for your career success.
Listening sounds simple, right? Well, we all know that is not the case. The best way to illustrate how listening can affect you as a leader is through an example.
Katherine has been leading an organisation now for eight years. She sought out executive coaching to help develop herself as a director and improve her interpersonal skills with her management team. Working with a coach, she has learned that much of her difficulty is tied to poor listening skills. She’s frustrated and her team is frustrated with her.
Katherine always assumed she was a good listener. She took for granted her ability to listen because many considered her a great representative for the organisation since she always delivered on the numbers expected of her team. The feedback she received recently, however, was that she simply doesn’t listen to her employees.
Before they finish what they are saying, she is talking over them or she cuts people off as they’re speaking or she moves on to the next agenda item because she thinks she already understands their point of view. Katherine, though, simply thought she was leading. What she has failed to see is this: the foundation of effective leadership is effective listening.
According to Michael Hoppe, author of the Center for Creative Leadership guidebook Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead, “If not corrected, poor listening skills will translate into poor relationships and poor performance.”
Listening is one skill that most people don’t even try to improve. However, poor listening skills can ultimately derail a career.
We’ve all experienced folks who demonstrate poor listening skills and, in fact, we might be guilty of this behaviour ourselves. When a person is a poor listener, you’ll hear comments like “she doesn’t care what I have to say, so why bother discussing anything with her” or “you don’t dare bring up a different idea with him – he’ll shut you down” or “she only hears what she wants to hear.” Other signs that the person is not listening include multiple distractions (e.g. looking down at your phone or even texting while “listening”), moving quickly on to another topic, filling any and all silences, or talking more than the other person.
The impact of listening
If I were coaching Katherine, and she asked for my advice, here’s what I’d share.
Stop. Notice that you are about to listen. Empathic listening is important for your success. Remember, empathy is not agreement. It’s a way to communicate that you respect what the other person is thinking and feeling. This is not about coddling or making nice; empathic listening makes good business sense.
Steven M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, calls it Listen First: “To Listen First means not only to really listen (to genuinely seek to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, experience and point of view), but to do it first (before you try to diagnose, influence or prescribe).”
It also means listening for what really matters to that person – whether it’s your boss, customer, your staff member, or your spouse. Focus your complete attention so that the person feels he or she is being heard.
Here are key steps to becoming a great listener:
- Stop to listen
- Listen before you speak
- Make eye contact
- Demonstrate respect
- Suspend judgment and assumptions as you listen
- Notice the person’s emotions and behaviours
- Avoid the usual distractions
- Don’t jump in to fill any silence as the person is speaking
- Avoid rushing “to fix” during the conversation
- Paraphrase what you’re hearing to be sure you understand the person’s point of view
- Ask open-ended questions to seek clarity and understanding
- Listen often
You may think practicing these steps will feel awkward at first. And they may because it’s typically not the way most of us listen. But as you frequently stop and listen, it will become part of your leadership style.
When you practice empathic listening, people will feel heard and acknowledged by that simple act.
Listening is a critical skill in great leaders. Join them.
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