Listen with Intensity
One of the most critical skills you can develop as a compassionate and inclusive leader is your ability to truly listen to your people, stakeholders, customers, and partners. In a digital world where we are always on and connected, it becomes difficult to focus, which impacts our ability to listen intently. We can all probably think of that time when we found the courage to speak up or just wanted to share our point of view, but the other person was distracted. In that moment, you may not feel valued. Even if you are offended, most people will not speak up in the moment. They will shrug it off and say, “No problem,” and excuse the behavior. I have learned to ask, “Is now still a good time to discuss?” This gives the listener an opportunity to either reschedule the connection at a more convenient time or commit to being present.
One of my customers, Kevin, shared with me that he thought he was a great listener. I asked him how he arrived at that conclusion. He said because no one ever tells him otherwise. As the conversation continued, I noticed that when I asked him the perspectives of others, he did not have a great answer. It was obvious to me that Kevin was not self-aware or cared what others thought of his listening proficiencies. It was also clear to me that he did not have the right people around him who could exercise courage to tell him what he needed to hear. This is a dangerous place to be as a leader.
In a virtual world with cameras and technology between us, you will find that the distractions are more common, and we must work harder to be present. The key to listening intently is discipline and practice. At the core of listening is your ability to connect with another person by understanding the essence of their message and demonstrate your cognitive understanding of how you are processing the message. There are several strategies you can try to demonstrate mastery of this skill.
- Hold listening sessions, town halls, etc., with the understanding that your job is just to facilitate the discussion and ensure understanding. This is done by asking open-ended questions, sitting in the uncomfortable silence, and letting others speak.
- Avoid thinking through your response as the speaker is talking. Ensure you have shared understanding so you can align quickly and arrive at the right set of solutions or outcomes when needed.
- Listen twice as much as you speak. My father always said, “You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Let us all remember to listen twice as hard and try to deeply understand the true intention behind a message and make sure you are listening for the things that are not being said directly as well. This may be an opportunity for you to gain additional clarity and make sure there are no misunderstandings.
- Once you have received the feedback, paraphrase the feedback you heard, seeking clarity, and seek validation of your understanding.
- In all meetings, virtual or in-person, eliminate all distractions. When possible, finish that last email, close the lid of your device if you are in person, focus on talking into the camera and looking at their face when they are speaking, and place your phone on silent and/or put it in a different place so that it will not cause a distraction.
- Before moving to solutioning, make sure you allow enough time for full ideation. If you have not heard ideas from everyone, create the space to hear them out. You should also offer multiple methods of providing input into the process (i.e. email, chat window in virtual meetings, etc.) for those who struggle with the language or may be hesitant to speak up.
- During a discussion, make sure you are leveraging others’ ideas and build one on top of the other to expand the thinking. If you draw the connections, you will find that others will feed off your energy. This will also demonstrate you are listening.
- In virtual meetings, when you have team members with a dialect that is not easy for you to understand, turn on closed caption. This will allow the translation to take place on the screen. Once you get beyond trying to make out what they are saying, you will be able to focus on listening intently for the message.
- Resist the urge to just collect all the information and process later. You miss an opportunity to gain additional clarity on the spot. This could reduce your processing time.
Continue to practice this work. It is the best gift you can give anyone to make them all feel like their voice matters and they are heard.
Be the Difference!