Recently, I was talking to a colleague about a project that’s very important to me. She responded in a way that surprised me, because it’s a pretty uncommon response.
She listened. She really listened. She didn’t interrupt. She didn’t insert herself or make what I was saying about her. And when I finished talking, she asked questions that let me say things that I didn’t even know I needed to say.
Feeling really heard is phenomenal.
When I complimented her on her listening skills, she told me it was something she’s been working on. That’s key.
Do you think about listening as a learned skill? Or something leaders practice? I listen to people all day long and I’m still learning and practicing to improve.
We often think about leaders practicing public speaking, projecting and speaking with influence. There are thousands of books and seminars on how to talk to people. But how often do we think or talk about listening?
We have a preoccupation with making people listen to us, meanwhile, we overlook the importance of listening to other people. I believe listening is the most undervalued leadership skill.
1.Your people need to feel heard. When you really listen to someone, it tells them that you really value them. What a gift! Your people need to feel valued, seen and heard now more than ever.
When people are experiencing a transition, they need to talk about the uncertainty, anxiety and frustrations they’re feeling. They need to hear themselves voice their concerns, know that leadership is listening and that you’re making decisions that are informed by their experience.
2. Listening is how leaders learn. We can learn new perspectives. We can learn the problems behind the problem. And we can learn what really needs to get done.
Listening to people slows things down and some people might think they don’t have time in their day to do more listening. But when we put time into really listening, we save time that would otherwise be wasted solving the wrong problem or answering the wrong question.
3. Listening empowers leaders to lead. People need to feel heard before they can really accept and get behind change. Right now, we are immersed in change. If you have any hope of leading people through turbulent times, you need to get good at listening to them. Now.
1.Be present. First, you need to set aside distractions and focus on the person you’re listening to.
If you’re sitting down with someone, in person or on video, your body should be turned towards them and you should be able to make eye contact with them, even if they don’t make eye contact with you. When they do look at you, they should see you seeing them, being open to what they have to say — they should see you listening.
People know you aren’t really listening when they catch you scanning screens, looking over their shoulder, or staring out the window. Those momentary lapses in focus make people feel invisible and unheard long after they leave the meeting. Practicing being fully present with people has an equally enduring, positive impact.
On video and phone calls, it’s even more important to set aside or turn off distractions (and notifications) to be present with people. Think about it, you know what it feels like when you’re on the phone with someone who’s tuned out and started checking email.
We know when people are multi-tasking and it sends an immediate “you aren’t important enough to hold my attention” signal. (Even if you think they can’t tell, I’m telling you, they can.)
As an alternative to sitting down to listen, consider taking people for a walk, in person or on headsets.
Walking brings us into our bodies, connects us with our breath, energizes us and fuels creative thinking.
Walking together can also break the tension some people feel around what to do with their eyes in challenging conversations. That tension can be distracting for you both. Ditch it, and get moving in synch instead.
2. Get comfortable not doing something while you listen. People assume they need to do something when people talk, and they often start thinking about what they need to do the second the other person starts talking.
When you’re really listening, that is doing something. And often, it’s the only thing you need to be doing.
• If you’re thinking about how to reply, how to advise, or how to solve the first problem you hear, you aren’t really listening.
• If you’re trying to recall a story that shows you can connect with what the person is saying, you aren’t really listening.
• If you’re worrying about how you look or how you might sound when it’s your turn to speak, you aren’t really listening.
Next time you’re listening to someone, if you notice yourself falling into any of these habits, stop yourself and just let yourself listen.
3. Get comfortable with a little silence when people stop talking. Part of the reason we race ahead to think about things while people are speaking is that we desperately want to avoid awkward silences. Why? What’s so bad about taking a minute to think about something you’ve heard someone say?
While someone is talking, just listen and when they stop talking practice taking a beat to pull together some questions to deepen your understanding.
People appreciate seeing you take a moment with what they’ve said. And you can better focus on the information, feelings and non-verbal cues they share while they speak, which ultimately makes you better prepared to respond.
People want to be listened to when they speak. Your colleagues, your family, the server at your lunch spot — everyone likes the feeling of being fully listened to. You have endless opportunities to get good at this.
Remember: Taking control of the things you can control makes you more resilient to things outside your control.
Shutting out distractions and really focusing in on what people are saying when they talk to you is totally in your control. And the practice arms you with the information and trust you need to manage things that come at you.
This article was originally published in Chris Obst’s monthly e-newsletter. Sign up now.