In her book My Life in Leadership, Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, wrote one of the best descriptions of listening and leadership: “Listening is an art. When people are speaking, they require our undivided attention.
We focus on them; we listen very carefully. We listen to the spoken words and the unspoken messages. This means looking directly at the person, eyes connected; we forget we have a watch, just focusing for that moment on that person. It’s called respect, it’s called appreciation – and it’s called leadership.”
Let’s explore this art of listening. Did you know that 80% of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen? In other words, our success or failure is determined before we do anything.
What escapes most people is they think listening is passive. They think they are supposed to just sit there and “hear someone out.” If you re-read Frances’ description, you’ll notice it is active and powerful. Good listeners know this. They regard listening as an active process.
So what do good (active) listeners do? They think before they speak; they listen with respect; and they are always gauging their response by asking themselves, “Is it worth it?”
1. Think before you speak
What do most of us do when we’re upset? We talk. When we’re confused, surprised, shocked? Talk. However, listening is a two-part process. During one part, we listen. During the other, we speak. What we say is proof of how well we’ve listened.
2. Listen with respect
To learn from people you have to listen to them with respect. This means engaging the speaker with your eye contact and body language, showing that you are interested in what they’re saying, so that you can keep learning from what they’re saying.
3. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
Listening also requires answering this difficult question before you speak. A good way to make sense of it’s to realise that you are the age-old question of advancing, “What’s in it for me?” to “What’s in it for her?”
You’ve heard me say many times, this is simple stuff, but it’s not easy.
If you try listening actively, with respect you’ll be amazed at how much better things get. Many of our interpersonal problems stem from not listening and not thinking before we speak. You say something – I get mad. I lash out, and within seconds we have a crisis of miscommunication that can stop teams, departments, and organisations from functioning well.
It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about; the content is irrelevant. What matters is how easily we slip into small behavioural patterns that create friction in the workplace – and how just as easily we can assume behavioural patterns that don’t create friction.
We can choose to practice simple disciplines like thinking before speaking, listening with respect, and asking, “Is it worth it?” at work. It’s not difficult, we just need to do it.
For those of you who want to change for the better, try the following techniques during your next interpersonal encounter. Keep practicing. You will reap amazing benefits!
- Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t finish the other’s sentences.
- Don’t say, “I knew that.”
- Don’t even agree with the other person. Even if he praises you, just say, “Thank you!”
- Don’t use the words, “no,” “but,” and “however.”
- Don’t be distracted. Don’t let your eyes or attention wander elsewhere while the other person is talking.
- Maintain your end of the dialogue by asking intelligent questions that show you’re paying attention, move the conversation forward, and require the other person to talk.
- Eliminate any striving to impress the other person with how smart or funny you are. Your only aim is to let them feel that they are accomplishing that.