Are there different ways to listen? Yes. Are there pros and cons to being a leader who listens? Even more so.
The “pros” are pretty obvious. We all understand there’s a difference between listening to someone and hearing someone. So deep listening is an important skill that allows us to connect, empathize, and truly hear someone – what they mean, what they’re feeling, what they need. When we listen deeply, we’re in better position to take action, the people we’re listening to feel valued, and positive things usually happen.
If you want to use deep listening, here are a few tips: Look people in the eyes, process what they say, don’t interrupt them, ask thoughtful questions, take notes, listen to learn not to flatter, and affirm what they’ve told you rather than telling them your opinion.
None of that is rocket science, but plenty of leaders struggle to do it. Visionaries want to cast their vision. Orators want to inspire. Who has time to listen?
On the other hand, deep listeners often have flaws that limit their effectiveness. So whether you are a pro at deep listening or a deep listener in training, here are some leadership hacks that will help you not only listen deeply, but listen well.
Get in the right frame of mind
Have you ever talked to someone who’s physically there, but you know their mind is elsewhere? It happens all the time, right? They act as if they are listening when, in fact, they are thinking about something else. They’re distracted, and they think you don’t know it. Well, nine times out of 10, you do know it. And if you’re distracted, chances are, they know it. So clear your mind of distractions. Commit to genuinely listen or ask if there is another time when you can do so.
Know why you’re listening
Sometimes we listen to someone simply to learn more about them and get to know them better. Other times, we have a specific challenge or problem to solve. And sometimes what starts out as a casual get-to-know you conversation turns into a problem solving adventure. The important thing is that we understand the needs of the person to whom we’re listening. We must be aware of the “why” before we can listen well.
Know the value of what you’re hearing
We can waste a lot of time listening to the wrong people or listening to too many people. We can learn something from anyone, of course, but leaders need to be efficient and strategic as they navigate conversations. If you work in a hotel and want to learn what changes would improve room service, listen to the waiter who delivers room service meals.
Know when to stop listening
Consensus can be the enemy of inspiration. Some leaders want to listen to everyone and factor everyone’s opinions and ideas into a solution, policy, or program. What they get is some watered down version of what might have been something great.
Know when to speak
That’s right, part of listening is knowing when and how to speak effectively. We need to let people know we’ve heard them and tell them what we’ll do (or won’t do) with what they’ve told us. We have to connect in ways that inspire our teams. Affirming that we’ve heard them will take us somewhere wonderful together.