It’s a skill as old as the ages and sets you apart from those who fail to perform it. It’s also one that far too many fail to meet a minimum competency test. For those who develop this skill it is likely to become one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal. It will build trust and relationships, it will help you build an engaged workforce and virtually any willing participant can learn this skill. Leaders who develop proficiency with this are on their way to mastering perhaps the most powerful of all skills-Good Communications! And for the record companies with leaders who are good communicators can be as much as 47% more profitable. It is a human skill that will be a difference maker for those who master it or even become just “good” at it. If you haven’t guessed by now it’s listening.
As the quantity of information has ramped up in the last decade or two listening has failed to keep up and in fact is beginning to become a lost skill for most. Information flies at us from every direction and quicker and quicker speeds and at the end of the day the volume and pace of it seems to leave us with the sense of “what just happened”? And for good reason. Researchers have found that the human brain can only take in information for about 14 to 16 seconds before it begins processing it and loses the ability to retain information beyond that. This has got to be a crisis for the “speed talkers” of the world who don’t understand that the whole point of talking is to communicate or connect with others instead of a competition to see how many words they can spew in a given time frame without taking a breath. But give them credit nothing seems to deter them once you get them started. Maybe someday this will become an Olympic competition. Personally I’ve found the terms’ wait-wait-wait and or stop-stop-stop and a raised stop sign to be the only way to possibly control them. And from there on out yes and no questions is about the only way to decipher there runaway tongue throttles.
Talking is the most common form of communications in a business and effective conversations begin with good listening skills. And this means internally and externally. The better you get a listening the better you will be as a leader. The same is true in sales. Your customer knows everything you need to know to provide the right product and right service and the only way you can efficiently learn that is to stop talking and start listening.
The best of companies today employ techniques that engage their employees in conversation and not lecturers and their prospects in a solution oriented dialogue built around what the challenges of the customer and are what the solutions might be.
A Harvard Business Review article, referred to this exchange as an organizational conversation. In that article they stated that: Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously know when to stop talking and start listening. Few behaviors enhance conversational intimacy as much as attending to what people say. True attentiveness signals respect for people of all ranks and roles, a sense of curiosity, and even a degree of humility.”
This is what I call engaged or authentic listening. It is the ability to understand what the speaker is trying to say or the idea that is being communicated.
Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Authentic listeners have uncanny ability to listen intuitively to the other person’s story, searching conversations for depth, meaning and understanding with the other person’s needs in mind.
Employee research indicates that a leader’s failure to listen is usually the biggest mistake that is made. When you aren’t listened to the takeaway will be “what I say, think, or know doesn’t matter. Absent an unusual level of wisdom and maturity prepare for the worst and if it continues you can expect the listener to rebel or run as circumstances dictate. An employee will vote with their feet by diminishing effort and a customer or prospect will eliminate you from the possible selections.
Listen to Feedback Like a Leader!
Research indicates that as much as 80% of a leaders’ time is spent in communications and improving them is a great way to find a whole bucket of extra time and a better running operation when you learn to listen and become a better communicator as a result.
1. Listen without interruption, objections, or defensiveness to the content, the emotions and the feelings of the speaker.
2. Clarify. Hear the speaker out and when they are done ask questions to clarify what was said.
3. Thoughtful. Seek to understand the effects and consequences of your behavior.
4. Hold Still. Be relaxed, breath. Assume a comfortable body posture. Be aware of your own emotional reactions.
5. Be Explicit. Make it clear what kind of feedback you are seeking, and why it is important to you. Offer a structure for the feedback — questions, rating scales, stories.
6. Quiet. Refrain from making or preparing to make a response. Do not be distracted by the need to explain, defend, or fix.
7. Clear with your commitment. Describe how you have benefited from the feedback and what specific steps you will take toward improvement.
As you move forward, embrace relating to others with more curiosity and intent about those you serve. Treat listening like a human experiment in your professional development journey. The best listeners hear what others don’t and because they do their decisions become increasingly better for all concerned.