Harry Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I would propose a variation of that principle. Not all listeners are leaders, but all leaders are listeners.
One of the most critical requirements for solid organizational leadership is the ability to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization. The best way to do this is to simply become a listener. There is a big difference between a hearer and a listener. Most employees would not argue whether or not their leaders hear them, but an overwhelming majority would assert that their leaders rarely listen to them – I mean really listen. Hearing indicates the acknowledgment of a sound. Listening is the result of true focus.
As a leader, you won’t find “listening” as a part of your job description, but it is an unspoken requirement for effective leadership.
How can you become a better listener? Try these five ways:
- Don’t think ahead. I don’t mean become unengaged, but If you’re like me, it’s not uncommon to begin contemplating my next statement while the other person is still talking. If I’m thinking ahead to my next clever response, there is a pretty good chance I am only marginally – if at all – listening to the person with whom I’m in conversation. I should be listening to understand and that means waiting until the speaker has finished his or her comments and then carefully considering and stating my reply.
- Don’t interrupt. This is another area where I have to be very intentional. it’s not uncommon for me to be in the process of listening (or hearing) someone when suddenly a brilliant (okay, it’s brilliant to me) revelation occurs to me. In an effort to not forget my thought of absolute genius, I simply blurt out my comment, cutting off and rudely interrupting the other person. This does not make a person feel heard. Instead, it gives the impression that they, and what they have to say, is not very important to you.
- Use the “Drive Through” technique. Have you noticed when you go through a fast-food drive through, the person will repeat your order back to you? They do this for two reasons. First, to make sure they heard you correctly and second, to let you know they heard you. Try this when you’re having a conversation. When an important point is stated, by the other person, repeat it back to them in your own terms. You can say something like, “So, what you’re asking is whether or not you should redesign the current quarterly reports, is that correct?” Give it a try.
- Listen for important points. Intentionally listen for the significant points raised by your conversation partner. Often we’ll hear the first few seconds of what someone is saying to us and immediately decide we know what they mean and everything they are going to say. Why don’t you try to imagine that, after the conversation, you will be responsible for providing an in-depth outline of the what you heard? Listen for the bullet points you’ll use in your outline and make mental notes accordingly. You’ll be surprised how much more of the conversation you absorb.
- Take notes. I don’t mean write down every word. In fact, that approach would be worse. There is no way you can take elaborate notes and appear engaged. However, if you quickly jot down a handful of important points, it will accomplish three things. (1) The other person will know you value what they have to say. (2) You can listen more intently because you’ll have your notes to refer to before making your next comment. (3) You’ll have a good record of your conversation that you can use to create any necessary action steps.
Give these five ideas a shot during your next conversation. I think you’ll find you’re more engaged and that you hear, and remember, much more of what’s said.
Question: Have there been recent instances, when you’ve walked away from a conversation well aware that you missed something?