I listened to a TED Talk yesterday while I was on the elliptical (got to keep up with that New Year’s resolution). It was about how we are losing our ability to listen. As leaders or business owners we spend a lot of time talking. We are giving direction or input to our employees. We’re talking with customers. We’re talking with people at networking events. We spend a lot of time working on getting our story out there. This talk reminded me of how critical listening is for those of us who are leading others.
This week try to spend more time listening. Here are some ideas how to do that:
1. Open every conversation by asking the other person a question. This question should not be a perfunctory ‘how are you?”. Make it a question that is really about something. Focus on listening to the answer, not waiting for the other person to be done so you can get on to your real agenda.
2. When you have listened to what someone has to say, reflect or summarize. Anyone who has taken an active listening course knows that this is a technique to show the other person you are listening. I’m not suggesting it for that reason. Rather, by verbally saying what you’ve heard out loud, you are hearing it again and increasing the likelihood that you are actually listening to the words meaning.
3. Institute the ‘no multitasking’ rule during conversations. More and more I attend meetings where people think it is perfectly okay to have a laptop or smartphone in front of them so that they can multitask. This may sound efficient, but in reality it completely undermines the ability to listen and engage in what is going on. The human brain doesn’t work that way. It needs to be focused on what is being said. When you are visually looking at something, the sound becomes background noise. Most of the time, the person sending the text or email can wait for your reply.
4. Create listening posts. Create opportunities for others to have your undivided attention. Establish a regular time when you’ll be available for an individual or group to speak with you when you will give them complete, undivided attention. Make it immutable.
At the end of the week, assess the impact of your listening on your decision making, your relationships with your team and your awareness of what is happening in your organization.