I was commiserating with my mentor a couple of weeks back on how one trait separates true leaders from the rest of us – the ability to listen deeply enough so that the speaker feels heard. This post builds on a March 2015 blog I wrote entitled Listen Up, and is stimulated by a exceptional September 2016 HBR article entitled What Great Listeners Actually Do, and suggests ways on how to improve listening for leaders of all levels.
- A relationship must be established so that people feel comfortable speaking. What you say, what you do, and who you are helps create such an environment. And how you show up under trying circumstances is the litmus test for the type of leader you are. Remember that people are watching, especially when the waters are murky and the circumstances are complex. Act with morality and competence, exercise grace under pressure, do the right thing even when it’s painful in the short term.
Focus is Key:
- It goes without saying that distractions such as phones, laptops and shiny objects should take second seat to someone sitting in front of you, wanting your full attention.
- But beyond this obvious fact, remember that all your energy and focus should be on the person in front of you, so that she/he feels comfortable and safe communicating ANYTHING to you.
The Substance of the Message
- Focusing on the speaker helps you capture the substance of the message in detail. Asking clarifying questions and restating what’s communicated will help ensure that you have heard the full message, as intended, which is a foundational platform for listening.
The Implications of the Message
- Beyond the message itself, listen for the implications of the message for them physically, socially, emotionally, in the short term and for the long term.
- Listen also for why the message is given to YOU and why the message is given NOW. What is the understanding and the expectations and in what timeframe?
What’s NOT Said
- Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, perspiration, gestures, posture, as well as verbal cues like tone, emphasis, pace, and other factors may help you understand the message beyond the verbal message.
- Being curious and asking the deeper questions based on these non verbal cues will help you better understand the given and the intended message.
The Feelings Behind the Message
- Often the emotions and feelings behind the message is more important than the message itself. Helping the speaker feel comfortable sharing the full and complete message along with the emotions and feelings beyond the message, even if it dredges up uncomfortable experiences and experiences, is the mark of a superior listener and an exceptional leader and friend for that matter!
Support Without Judgment
- A true hallmark of the best listeners is the ability to help the speaker better understand all aspects of what they are communicating, especially those around the emotions, without judgment, no matter how urgent, dire, emotional, distressing, confounding, annoying . . . it can be.
Looking Beyond Yourself and Your Circumstances
- If there is trust beyond measure, support without judgment, and experience beyond the realm of the speaker, both the listener and the speaker can see the problem or issue in a new light, see new possibilities and opportunities and open up one more path.
We all have our hot spots and bad days, but may we all have good listeners around us to help us pick ourselves up, take a deep breath, pull our shoulders back and say ‘What’s Next?’
We hope that this post helps YOU level-up to see and hear what’s next for yourself, and for all those who listen to you and speak to you.