Listening is an art that starts with you. It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow. I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers. So you want to lead by example; listen by example.
So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall. Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit. You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea. Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing. We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go. Don’t be that person. Be the listener and they will follow.
Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:
1. Seek first to understand. If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said. As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential. Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas. Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.
2. Don’t drift. If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening. Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away. Be in the moment and just listen. And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question. Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.
3. Let there be silence. It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice. Let there be an awkward silence. There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1). In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect. Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.
4. Reflect. Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas. Seek clarity. Is there something you don’t understand? Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them. How much time do we have to make the decision?” Reflecting keeps you in the present.
5. Check assumptions. It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario. Like “yeah…this idea will never work. Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding. Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine. “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.
6. Don’t interrupt. If you are interrupting, you are not listening. You just put your agenda first. You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”. Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it. They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much. Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.
Full disclosure. I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.