Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Leadership Lesson 3: Listening to Understand

Associated Leadership Expectation: Communicate Effectively

Managers are often chosen, particularly as we move up the ladder, for attributes that include things like “strong opinions, decisive action, and take-no-prisoners attitudes” (Stibitz, 2015). All of these are great traits to have as we lead our teams, particularly through times of change, but these are some of the same traits that make us poorer listeners.

There is a lag between our hearing words and our understanding their meaning, the length of which varies from person to person. It is during this time that we lose concentration and our understanding suffers. We can get lost in our own thoughts, preparing to respond rather than paying attention. We make assumptions and try to guess what they are getting at, causing us to Make Stuff Up (TM) and problem-solve before they have even finished speaking!

Here are a few tips to help us be more attentive and effective communicators:
  1. Put down your technology and make eye contact. It is too easy to become distracted by our phones and computers. When we are given an opportunity to engage face-to-face, we must discipline ourselves to take advantage of that time.
  2. Rephrase and check for your understanding. A common practice to help us ensure we are understanding is to simply ask. When a natural pause arises, we can say something like, “What I hear you saying is…” and then provide them with a short synopsis of our understanding. This way, they can feel confident that they have been heard.
  3. Look for nonverbal cues. Especially when a topic is difficult, or the individual is separated from you by several layers of rank, it is important to try to understand what they are not saying. Does the person have their arms crossed in front of them? Are they sitting on the edge of the seat? Do they keep looking at the door? All of these can help us understand their position more fully.
  4. Know yourself. When someone relates a story, our brains search our memory archives for any relevant or similar experiences in our own lives. Depending on the topic and our emotional connection to it, we may become so engrossed in remembering the details of our story that we stop listening altogether—and even interrupt them. Often, we engage in this behavior, because we think it helps to give them an example. Instead, we only serve to set up a dynamic where we are in charge of the narrative, even though this was not supposed to be about us.
Sometimes, we fail and miss the opportunity to make a real connection with someone, but we must reengage and try again to move toward more effective and authentic communication.

Tip #3: What does it look like to listen to someone without telling your story?

Stibitz, S. (2015). How to really listen to your employees. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from 

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