Why Listening is Such a Key Leadership Skill
Did you get everything done yesterday that you wanted to? How about the day before that? Would you like more time in your day to do everything? Work, texting the kids, family, friends, groceries, Facebook, errands, fixing the lawnmower. It’s a frenetic world we stumble through every day with no time to take a breath. The ‘To Do’ list is never complete (It never will be by the way so get used to it). I don’t know about you, but this causes me anxiety. My desk is a mess, and my friends rarely see me. Evenings I’m some kind of Zombie 'cos I’m so tired.
To create more balance we can try to manage our energy (not our time). By focusing more on what we eat, how much sleep we get, how much exercise we take (cardio, strength training and flexibility) we can become more productive, energized and focused. Loads of research supports this somewhat counter-intuitive concept. There is also an increasing focus on becoming more mindful, including paying more attention to our presence in the moment. So what’s all this got to do with listening?
Well, one critical leadership competence and respectful human kindness trait is to really listen to another person during a conversation. But as we flail though our frantic world many things can suffer from our lack of attention. Listening is a big one. The victims are our friends, family, spouses, children, neighbor’s bosses and co-workers. My guess is you know how you feel when someone is not fully listening to you. Often they will listen for a few seconds, then chime in with their experience that takes over what you were trying to say. They (often unknowingly) create a shift in the conversation to them, away from you.
This type of listening is listening for a gap so they can speak. Half listening and simply waiting to say what’s on their mind irrespective of what you are saying. Sadly, this happens all the time. In contrast, can you recall a time when you were listened to attentively and deeply. When the other person asked a question, curious to learn more about what you just told them. Connecting with your words and their meaning and how the event made you feel. This is known as active listening. I like to call it resonant listening. This is giving them your complete attention and listening so fully with your head, your heart, and your gut that other person feels you are with them in their story, and feels that you want to know more. You know it is about them in that moment and far less about you. Many top leaders and wonderful people are great at listening.
Recently FastCompany published a great Blog by Lisa Evans describing the Six Habits of Good Listeners. It was based on research work by Taylor Berens Crouch at the University of Maryland. The short article is well worth a read. Here are six habits of great listeners:
1. Practice being mindful
2. Pause before responding
3. Paraphrase what was just said
4. Have an open mind
5. Are comfortable with being uncomfortable
6. Aware of their body language
How do your resonant listening abilities measure up most of the time? Where are you placing your attention when others speak?
With some of my executive coaching clients I give them a simple tool to use if they are shifting their habits from an expert in ‘knowing and telling’ mode to more of an ‘asking and listening’ mode. This is a coach approach to leadership. The tool I share with them, which can be written in a notebook as a reminder, is W.A.I.T, which stands for ‘Why Am I Talking?’ It’s a reminder to listen more than talk, and it works really well.
It’s not just a key leadership skill to be good at resonant listening, it’s a human relationship skill. You may find that you enjoy deeper friendships, better relationships and greater success as a manager if you simply WAIT.