To Be A Leader…Be A Listener

by Glen Fahs on April 6, 2011

in Communication,Leadership

A Conversation with Phillis Wheatley

Have you ever had a valuable suggestion or need to talk and could tell your supervisor or co-worker just wasn’t open or tuned in –and then something bad happened because communication didn’t happen?

Most of the people I train on proactive listening skills admit that they don’t listen really well. They are distracted, impatient or too quick to assume they know what is being said.

That causes multiple problems such as:

  • Not knowing what the underlying problem is or what the other person would like to see done – or be willing to do!
  • A sense that the half-listener doesn’t care about personal matters. “Caring about me as a person” is one of the twelve factors discovered by the Gallup Organization that distinguishes productive/profitable organizations from those that aren’t. Organizations with caring supervisors also have higher customer and employee retention.
  • The perception that the employee’s ideas aren’t truly respected or valued so why bother to warn the supervisor of issues. Innovation and process improvement opportunities are lost. “My input is valued” is another of the top twelve factors discovered in that amazing good Gallup research.

So we know listening is important. Is an open door policy enough? Not even close. Most employees don’t want to interrupt busy managers and so wait until there is a Big Problem and somebody to blame. How do you avoid this?

  • Don’t wait for communication to break down to maintain it.
  • Initiate regular opportunities to talk – the best supervisors schedule weekly reviews with those who depend on them – employees, their supervisor, etc. 
  • Come prepared with questions to get started. While sharing information is a plus, asking for it is even more powerful as a motivator and relationship builder. Asking questions such as, “What is new with you? What progress are you making (this is an opportunity for recognition as well as learning)? How is the team doing? How can I help?”
  • A great listener gets away from distractions (e.g., phone, computer, desk, other people) and concentrates on nonverbal signals as well as what words are said. Is the person not saying what most matters? What feelings or hesitations are important? What question might get to the root of the issue? Are they venting, probing, or just needing a sounding board? Great coaches are open to the person’s thinking processes rather than directing them on what they already know. They help others think for themselves and make decisions based on experience and values.
  • Reward and recognize successful communication. If you want loyalty and engagement, listening and sincere, specific praise and appreciation are two of the best ways to get it. One of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

If you want more confident, responsible employees, actively listen to them and give them feedback on what you are gathering from both what they say and what they reveal nonverbally. If you do, they will think you are smart, caring and open to improvements. In return they will try to be as important as you treat them.


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tina April 7, 2011 at 7:17 am

Great information! I am excited about the Active Listening class on the 21st. The effective listening focus of the class will improve my communication in all aspects of my life. 😉

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