Stop talking and sit quietly. You will listen like a leader.
Do you like talking? And do you like listening to yourself?
Great, but you might be the only one. What about others? Do they like listening to you too? Managers often live in a world in which they are right, and others have to listen to them.
They are used to communicating from their position. So, the communication is going from the top down. No surprise there. What if the channel back is somehow blocked? What if employees can’t send their messages back to the top? What happens?
Like in any other relationship, listening makes a huge difference. Can you do it? Can you sit silently and listen? I make a promise to you. If you can, you will become a better leader and manager.
We don’t listen
How is it possible that you sit at a meeting and zoom out to your happy place? You hear the sound but switch off your listening. Researchers and scientists often mention that we hear with ears, but listen with the brain.
Listening is not the same as hearing and hearing is not the same as listening. — Pauline Oliveros
You can direct your brain to different inputs. I like having a radio on when writing. Yet, I don’t listen to it. I listen to my inner voice. I transform its words into writing. Sounds weird and spiritual, right?
When I train managers and ask them about some examples. They often do not listen to what other participants say. But instead, they are preparing their own response.
Try to catch yourself when you are eager to say something while you should be listening. A quick test — while you are reading this, do you think about something else? HA! Watch out for your focus time.
Let’s accept we are bad listeners.
The problem is when others notice we are bad listeners.
How do you feel when you are not listened to? Frustrated, sad, angry, etc.? What if your team feels that way. Not good.
Start scheduling your focus time
You have so many distractions around. Your brain is constantly overwhelmed. That’s why you cannot listen actively all the time. You need breaks of silence or procrastination.
So, stop having a meeting after a meeting. The worst thing I notice managers do is to have 1–1 meetings with their team one after the other. How can you listen to what they tell you? You are tired.
Look at your schedule and decide when you want to focus. It does not have to be the whole afternoon. It can be as short as 20 min, then a 5-min break, and continuing with another 20 min.
Find your rhythm.
Count with a simple fact that you won’t be able to focus for a long period. Can you shorten your 1–1 meetings to half? Wouldn’t it be better to spend 25 min of actively listening than 60 min of doodling and nodding?
Are silent people at meetings bad? They most likely listen. Even if they don’t comment on everything, they are present.
Silence shouldn’t be read as ignorance. It could be, but it’s not the rule. Silent people focus and actively listen to what’s being said. They are the ones who can then come up with solutions and ideas.
Likewise, if you sit silently and listen to what another person telling you, you might find a lot you thought you knew. You often expect a certain response to your question. This can prevent you from listening to the actual answer.
Avoid also replying fast. Take a second and think about what was just said and how you want to treat it.
Silence isn’t empty. It’s full of answers. —Unknown author
Are you sure you heard everything? If not, it’s time to ask questions. You can admit, you didn’t listen to everything. Some things caught your attention. It is normal.
You can always say:
Sorry, I didn’t hear the second part…
I apologize I just thought about it and did not catch it…
I feel you mentioned something else that is important…
It was a lot of information, could we summarize…
Could you repeat…
Questions work as confirmation of your listening. You extract the information you need with questions and answers.
Treat questions as your management superpower. They can help you streamline a conversation. People like drifting away. You don’t want to lose important information. Questions help you prioritize and find solutions.
Does your team like complaining? I bet they do. My teams loved criticizing processes, decisions, or clients. They also demanded answers and affirmation. That can be tricky.
Forbes (2018) wrote that more than half of managers did not respond constructively to work problems employees shared. This means people tend to feel not listened to.
Part of good listening skills is to provide answers. Answers that acknowledge situations, admit problems, give affirmation or explanation. Managers play politics. They can’t say everything. Yet, answers is another superpower they have.
Generic, plain answers won’t motivate people to perform. If you listen to them, you will understand what they want. It does not have to be too complicated. Many just want to be listened to and appreciated. No more than that.
Without listening, though, you don't know.
If you don’t know, employees won’t trust you. You put a lot is at stake.
The management job is conversational. You have a position of power as a leader. How you use it makes people stay or leave the company.
If I tell you that a management job is as easy as listening, you may laugh. Listening is difficult. I could list here tips on how to improve is instantly like experteer does:
Be fully in the moment, etc.
But I want you to focus on the basics which are: focus, silence, questions, and answers. Start with that. I am sure you find an improvement in no time. Remember listening makes you a better leader.
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