In business, effective communication is crucial to your success. Most leaders aspire to be viewed as effective, if not eloquent speakers and writers.
Leaders are called to communicate in myriad ways every day. You use these skills to resolve conflicts, convey ideas, inspire your team, defend decisions, and hold performance and development conversations, to name a few.
When you consider all the ways to become a better communicator, what most likely comes to mind are things like improving your ability to influence and persuade others, being able to “think on your feet” and appear competent and articulate, speaking with ease in front of large groups, or sharing your expertise to garner respect.
All of these aspects of communication are concerned with the delivery of your message, regardless of the modality you use.
It’s interesting that the most important part of communication (the part that matters to others, anyway) doesn’t require you to speak at all—it’s listening that makes the difference.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.” That’s because the quieter you become, the more you can learn.
So, what holds you back from being a great listener?
The most common response I hear is that people are just too busy and rushed to listen well. You probably spend much of your day multitasking and running from place to place. Who has time to listen?
People want answers from their leaders, right? Wrong. They want the exact same thing as you and me: to feel heard and understood.
“The biggest problem with communication is that most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” -Stephen Covey
Here are 3 time-tested ways leaders can demonstrate greater respect through listening:
1) Choose to fully engage.
There are two aspects of engagement to address here.
First, when someone knocks on your door and you invite them in to talk, you need to show them that you’re “there” with them. Turn away from your computer, ignore your phone, and turn toward them so you can speak face-to-face. These behaviors demonstrate respect and encourage open communication.
Second, you have to turn off the internal chatter and just be present in the moment. Many times you’re still concentrating on what you were doing just before the interruption or how long the conversation will take. These distractions keep you from truly engaging in the discussion.
I was horrified recently when someone relayed a story of interviewing for a job where the hiring manager was filing her nails and looking at her phone while the candidate was trying to answer questions. Imagine the unintended (I hope) consequences of these actions!
2) Listen actively and intuitively.
This means that you’re fully engaged and “hearing” both what’s actually being said, and also paying attention to subtle non-verbal cues that may tell a different story.
You may also rely on your knowledge of the person speaking: what’s important to them that might be influencing their message or interpretation of events, their work history, or items from previous conversations you’ve had.
For example, you may know that an employee is committed to being responsive and following through on deadlines on time. When they express concern that another person’s delay is affecting their ability to fulfill their promise, you can better understand their frustration with this knowledge and respond accordingly.
Demonstrate that you’re following along by nodding or with verbal cues if you’re not meeting face-to-face. Avoid interrupting while they’re talking to react to something they’ve said or to direct the conversation elsewhere. Ask clarifying questions once they’re finished speaking if you lack understanding.
3) Acknowledge and validate what you hear.
This is perhaps the most difficult skill to master because we have a tendency to listen from our own perspective rather than others’. This is normal. It’s your ego saying, “Well, here’s what I’d think/feel/do here, so why are they making such a big deal?”
The thing is, people don’t really care what you’d do or if you agree or not—their main concern is their own perception (AKA, their reality) of the situation.
The next time someone comes to you feeling angry, upset, frustrated, or stuck instead of saying, “I completely understand,” which you may or may not, try seeing things from their point of view.
First, reflect back what you think you’ve heard. It’s important that they have the chance to hear your interpretation of their message and allows you to clear up any miscommunication right away. Second, validate their perspective—basically, let them know they’re not crazy for feeling or reacting how they did. DO NOT talk about yourself. Keep the focus on them!
Using the example from before it might sound like this:
“It sounds like X Project will be delayed by 2 weeks because you’re waiting on X Department to provide the data you need to move forward. It’s understandable that you’re frustrated—you pride yourself on meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations.”
When people are angry or upset, they usually come prepared to fight to make a point or to justify their actions. You’ll be amazed at people’s reaction when they experience this level of listening and understanding. Some of my executives have seen employees’ entire demeanor shift once they realize their leaders “got it.”
Great leaders demonstrate humility and respect in every interaction. What better way to model this essential element of communication than to listen with a true desire to understand, help, and learn?
If you’re ready to take your leadership and your team from functional to optimal, then we should talk! Schedule a Complimentary Discovery Call with me!