Ram Charan recently posted a blog in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Discipline of Listening.” In the article, he claims that one in four corporate leaders has a listening deficit, and gives a series of tips that will help improve listening skills.
I’m just wondering — do we take listening for granted? Is it even a “skill”? After all, listening doesn’t really require much action. All we need to do is be present and not talk while someone is talking, and we’re listening. It’s pretty easy. Right?
Our biggest mistake is in assuming listening is a passive skill, when in fact it’s an active skill. And like any active skill, you need to develop it. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without disciplined training. Being a good listener takes the same type of discipline training.
You might be thinking “I’m super busy putting out fires and doing what I have to do, and I don’t have time to ‘practice’ listening.” You probably already know what someone else is going to say anyway. Once they get started you can almost fill in the blanks in your head. Right? That just mean you’re not really listening.
The truth is that poor listeners aren’t trusted, typically don’t receive the kind of input and ideas from co-workers that grow departments and organizations, and when they do receive them don’t act on them appropriately. Bad listeners ruin the morale, engagement, and productivity of employees. They can ruin teams, departments, and even entire organizations. Bad listeners make bad leaders. Period.
So what can you do to flex your listening muscles? Charan suggests the following tips:
- Actively listen for key insights and points. Charan suggests using pen and paper to jot down the key points and issues that are being brought to your attention, as well as a list of follow-up questions as you think of them. Asking follow-up questions will ensure you understand the issue correctly, will show the speaker that you think his or her points are important, and will encourage them to continue to come to you with thoughts and ideas.
- Put yourself in the speaker’s shoes. When you understand and affirm where people are coming from, this minimizes disagreements and conflict that can arise in idea exchanges. Let them know you understand their point of view, their context, and their emotions. Even if you don’t use the speaker’s ideas or solutions, you will create a collaborative culture in which sharing in a respectful way is the norm rather than the exception.
- Don’t act too quickly. In today’s busy world where action is valued, we often act before taking the time for full consideration. Take the time to listen, let things sink in, and replay the speaker’s thoughts back to them so you know they were understood before taking action.
- Ask others how you’re doing. Becoming a good listener takes time and practice. Let others know you’re working on it, and ask them for honest feedback on how you’re doing.
If you intend to be a great leader, you have to become an excellent listener. I dare you to honestly assess your skills, make the changes you need, and watch the motivation, engagement, and productivity of your department, team, or organization explode.
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