“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
85% of what we know we have learned through listening. Effective listening has a long list of benefits. It betters morale, builds trust, improves teamwork and increases engagement, which all in turn assist with retaining key employees, according to the Association for Talent Development. Listening is also the foundation for creative cultures. When people take the time to listen to one another, they are more encouraged to speak up, offering ideas, opinions, experiences and viewpoints that can improve what we do at work, for each other and for our users. In fact the most innovative leaders we know are marked out by their curiosity. We describe these leaders as so information hungry that they crave the facts that drive new insights and actions. The research tells us that getting heard is good for everyone, individuals, teams and business. It’s surprising then that we don’t use this simple leadership tool more. Why don’t we give listening the attention it deserves?
Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate, and less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques. For leaders in particular, this may be a hangover from traditional definitions and expectations of leadership. Great leaders used to be those individuals who held strong opinions and took directed and decisive action. Knowing was the essential pre-cursor for respect (remember the adage knowledge is power), and telling was the way to earn it. Now it seems that not knowing may actually be a source of advantage, and a new leadership strength. In today’s rather complex and changeable business context, no one person could possibly be expected to have all the answers. Those leaders who can actively seek out information, make sense of it and connect the dots are increasingly recognised as ‘powerful’ leaders.
Getting better at listening
If you want to live life as a listening leader, understand what is at stake for the person that you are engaging. Be sure about what you are hearing. “I am hearing that …. , am I hearing you correctly?” Be humble and explore until you get it. “You tell me if I am not getting what you are saying.”
Pay attention to the nonverbal communication, and acknowledge it. “You seem really energised by this. Tell me more.” “I get the sense this is upsets/annoys/delights you. Can you tell me more?”
Be aware of your own non-verbal communication. Ask for feedback. Are you putting people off through a reaction that is shutting them down, perhaps an early frown? Do you finish sentences for others, check your phone whilst they are talking, fidget or stare out of the window? Practice sitting still if you need to. If you are known for talking too much, make a conscious effort to keep silent and observe what happens.
Most of all, remember that we all have a truth. There is not always a right, a wrong or a judgement needed. In fact, different viewpoints are increasingly what we seek. We need more than one answer to unearth and connect previously disparate dots. Creating a space to get heard makes way for the magic happen.
That is an excellent way of putting it.
Here are 10 more questions to check if you are listening from the Internal Listening Association website.
At Waq’e Consultants we offer consultancy support, leadership mentoring and sales training within the recruitment agency sector. With over 33 years in the industry, we’re confident about exceeding your expectations.https://waqeconsulting.co.uk/consultancy-services/