You don’t have to take my word for it, but by becoming a better listener you become a better leader.
Has there ever been a time in your life where you felt you listened to much? How about a time when you talked too much? In general, when you explore your past, have you generally been more or less successful when you listened more?
Being a better listener doesn’t just mean keeping your mouth closed. In fact, that doesn’t have anything to do with listening at all- that just means you are doing less talking. There is a simple framework however, to becoming a better and more ACTIVE listener.
Explore. Get curious. As a general rule of thumb, he who talks the least has the most to gain. If you find yourself asking more questions than you make statements, you are off to a great start.
Acknowledge. Reflect back to the person what you think they are saying. By simply saying “What I hear you say is…” or “That sounds _______”, you will encourage the other person to give you more. As you acknowledge and reflect, search for feelings and emotions, not actions.
Respond. Only when you have done steps one and two should you respond. But, instead of saying what you think, instead try, “How might I best be able to help you?”
You see, being a good listener is being an active listener. Be honest with us, how much of your conversations are spent with sentences that end in question marks?
As leaders we have a natural tendency to want to fix things, but in our speed and haste we often miss the times that our leadership is needed the most. When employees bring us their challenges, opportunities, fears, failures, hopes, & frustrations we are able to step aside momentarily from our world and into their world. Intuitively we are able to often see an “out” or an “answer” to challenges that our team members bring to us. But, have you ever considered what may be lying just beneath the question?
You see, the price you pay by just answering the question is a missed opportunity to dig a little deeper, establish more rapport and to simply be more genuinely concerned for what is most important to them. In order to discover what’s at stake here we need to think through what it took for someone to bring the issue to you in the first place- whether personal or professional.
You can imagine them saying things like “I don’t want to bother the boss with this” or “I am sure this wouldn’t be important to her” or “He’s too busy to deal with my drama”. These preconceived notions, and frankly misconceptions, create an artificial barrier before the first word is even spoken.
If the quality of your life is directly proportional to the quality of the questions you ask, what does your team member need from you when they give you the opportunity to dig a little deeper?
If you think back to the past month, was there a member of your team that struck up some small talk with you? These conversations may start as discussions about friends and family, promotion opportunity, current events or a simple issue they may have with a coworker.
But instead of offering an immediate solution, what would it look like if instead you just said things like “I hear you, that sounds frustrating”, or “that sounds exciting”, or “tell me more about how that made you feel”?
By simply reflecting back to them the emotion or feeling that you are present to completely changes the tone and tenor of the conversation and encourages them to tell you more. How comfortable are you getting into your team members' thoughts, feelings and emotions?
I am a teacher, and I am a fixer, and I am pretty good at both- but that doesn’t always serve me very well.
I recall early in my marriage my wife was studying for the nursing prep course and was struggling with some math stuff. I can recall this vision of myself standing in front of the TV in the room with her laptop screen cast on to the TV while I rushed in to save the day and fix all her math woes. (She reads this, she’s the creative one- math ain’t her thing)
For the more inconsequential things in my life, this fixing and teaching things works pretty well. Problems get identified….solutions get found….Ob-la-di, ob-la-da…..life goes one. But for the more complex challenges in my life I came to this realization that I wasn’t fixing the RIGHT thing.
You see, in my haste to fix things, I never really spent enough time in discovering what the real challenge was. That’s like trying to disassemble a broken lawn mower before checking to even see if it has gas in it. In my effort to become a better parent as my children were young I was reading a book called Parent Effectiveness Training that was discussing the use of Active Listening and how to elicit further communication. So I first tried it with my daughter, then I tried it with an employee.
The results were STAGGERING. By simply using three words I was able to open up an entirely new depth of understanding of what the communicator was actually trying to tell me, or what may be lying just below the surface of our conversation.
“Tell me more”
So instead of just trying to fix what I thought was broken or to simply relay some eye opening information, I was able to apply a new level of curiosity. You can begin to see how these simple three words can easily be employed in work and at home to drastically improve your life, can you not?
P.S. Sorry if that song is now stuck in your head
P.P.S. Everyone should read this book if you are a parent, Parent Effectiveness Training