6 Ways Effective Listening Can Make You A Better Leader. by Glenn Llopis, Forbes Magazine
When employees say they want their voices to be heard, they are really saying they want leaders who will not just hear them, but really listen to them.
As employees seek more attention, feedback and support, leaders must become more mindful of individual needs in order to more effectively inspire professional development and overall performance. Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty. You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart because they truly listen to them.
As a leader, it’s difficult to really know what your employees are thinking about, what’s troubling them or how to help them get out of a performance slump –unless you take the time listen to them. Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your full attention. It requires you to be aware of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioral tendencies. Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainty embedded in the workplace and the on-going changes taking place.
During the early stages of my corporate career, I hired an employee ten years my senior. At first, our relationship was solid; we communicated effectively and she quickly created impact. But over time, her demeanor changed and I noticed that she wasn’t as engaged and enthusiastic about her work. When her performance started to negatively impact the bottom-line, I asked her if there was something I could do to help.
She responded by telling me that she had some personal problems at home impacting her ability to stay focused during her steep learning curve. Since she had only been on the job for 8 months, she didn’t want to share her personal problems with me (nor did she have to) fearing that it would change my perception of her – especially since I was the one who had hired her. Needless to say, it was obvious that I hadn’t been “listening” to her. I could have been a more compassionate leader, had I sensed the early warning signs and taken more immediate action. Instead, I waited until her performance started to wane. Fortunately, this experience awakened me to become a better overall listener; a more compassionate leader.
As leaders, we must balance our intensity and desire to perform with compassionate attention to our employees’ needs. Being more mindful of another’s stress and their tension points before they impact the business requires us to boost our emotional intelligence.
Listening is a leadership responsibility that does not appear in the job description. Those who do listen to their employees are in a much better position to lead the increasingly diverse and multigenerational workforce. The “one-approach-fits-all” way of thinking has become outdated and those who embrace the high art of listening are destined to be the better, more compassionate leaders.
Here are six effective forms of listening that will help get you started:
1. Show That You Care
When you care about your employees, they tend to work harder and aim to exceed your expectations. Employees want to be led by those who genuinely care about who they are and what they represent to the team and organization at-large. Don’t just view your employees as tools and resources for your own success – but as people and valuable assets who bring unique capabilities and aptitudes not necessarily limited to their job functions.
Many leaders have told me that their employee relationships end at work. Those relationships are short-lived. Employees want leaders who care about their general well-being and who can be depended upon during times of professional and personal hardships.
2. Engage Yourself
Beyond caring, engage yourself in matters important to your employees. When they share their opinions, ask questions and encourage them to elaborate and expand upon their perspectives. When you engage yourself more actively, hold yourself accountable and follow-up with your employees, they will know that you are listening, paying attention and attempting to understand what matters most to them.
I once had a boss who told me that I had a unique way of expressing myself in meetings. Instead of trying to mold me into being someone I wasn’t, he embraced my style and learned to use it to help stimulate team meetings. Many times he asked me to lead meetings when he was pulled away by the executive team. He made me feel that he was listening because he valued and applied what he interpreted about my style into action. To this day, I am extremely grateful for having such a compassionate leader as a boss – as he gave me the extra incentive to be my authentic self.
3. Be Empathetic
The workplace is fueled with the stress and pressure of each day. Because every employee manages stress and pressure differently, it is important that you are empathetic to how these distractors impact employee performance.
Express your concern and show your employees that you feel their frustrations. If you are an old-school leader, don’t be afraid to express sentiment or feel that it will weaken your stature or authority as a leader.
Empathy is a powerful display of listening. I realize that many leaders avoid emotional interactions, but the best leaders know how to empathize and make themselves approachable to those who need attention. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were masters of showing empathy towards others. Great leaders know how to balance the head and the heart.
4. Don’t Judge Others
Leaders that judge others are not listening. Too many times leaders make harsh criticisms about those with a different style or approach. Instead of judging someone, they could be learning from them (like my boss did early on in my career).
When leaders judge, they expose their immaturity and inability to embrace differences. These leaders may enjoy a long track record of success in one company, but often find it difficult to make the successful transition into a new company. Leaders must not grow complacent. The 21st century leader must embrace new ideas and ideals. They must be more active listeners, constantly learning and adapting to change.
5. Be Expansively Mindful
Great leaders are extremely mindful of their surroundings. They know how to actively listen beyond the obvious via both verbal and non-verbal communication. They acknowledge others via body language, facial expressions and nods. These types of leaders possess a tremendous degree of executive presence and are tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around them, at all times.
Leaders that are mindful are not just hearing conversations; they are listening to them and engaging in the dialogue. They don’t fake it, they are taking note of what is being said and how people are saying it and are making continuous eye-contact and gestures.
As the leader, everyone is watching your every move and action. If you appear disconnected, you are perceived as disinterested and not listening. Never stop being expansively mindful.
6. Don’t Interrupt
How many times has your leader rudely interrupted your train of thought? It’s fair to say this is a common occurrence. Compassionate leaders listen and don’t interrupt the flow of the dialogue. They embrace two-way communication and are aware that with every interruption comes disengagement. They earn respect from their peers by being a patient listener.
Stay focused on what your employees are saying. Stay in the moment and be respectful of others. Listen and become a more compassionate leader.
Employees respect those leaders that listen, because they know how difficult listening can be. Here are a few statistics that will really make you think about the importance of effective listening.
85% of what we know we have learned through listening
Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate
In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading and 9% writing
Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques
Glenn Llopis Contributor to Forbes
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