It could well be that the most important skill in contemporary business leadership is one of the skills very rarely taught—and it is creating a serious challenge, some might even say a crisis, for organizations who rely of effective leadership to succeed organizationally.
The skill, namely, is listening, and it has long been an underestimated leadership trait.
But it is a trait that, especially in our 21st century Internet, email, and text era, has worsened considerably as these technologies have transformed work life.
One on the positive side, these technologies have provided the convenience of expeditious and relatively easy responsiveness.
But what is convenient has also been costly as organizational leaders have become less focused on the essential need to listen, hear, and process the thoughts, ideas, responses, and concerns of their workforce.
Paying attention to less than half the conversation
In this new Inc. article, contributing editor Marcel Schwantes writes, “When you talk to your boss, co-workers, or customers for 10 minutes, studies indicate we pay attention to less than half the conversation.” Schwantes knows this to be true because, he boldly writes, “I’m certainly guilty of that myself.”
So what should be done about it? Schwantes points to five things:
First, when communicating verbally in the workforce, eliminate distractions.
Multitasking might be perceived as essential in today’s fast-paced workforce, but it comes at a price of compromising both the reality and perception of listening.
Park your thoughts
Second, resist the temptation to be immediately responsive and “park your thoughts.” Affirming or disaffirming a verbal message is actually less essential than listening to it carefully—and being sure that the person communicating it knows you are hearing it out.
I’d like to understand your problem further
Third, take yourself out of the moment when communicating and place yourself in the shoes of the person speaking with you. This is sometimes as easy as affirming a verbal message with an appropriate follow up question like, “I’d like to understand your problem further. Will you help me out?”
Practice authentic silence
Fourth, practice “authentic silence.” Silence is not, as some might think, a creator of tension; it actually usually projects that you are focused on the verbal message being communicated. Fifth and finally, never underestimate body language. “…nod your head, smile, lean in, make eye contact, and occasionally say ‘yes’ to encourage the speaker to continue,” Schwantes urges.
Feeling part of the process
Leaders, of course, ultimately lead. But leadership today is more than ever also a process that demands that those being led feel and are a part of the process.
Hearing them out fully, and ensuring they are aware that they have been heard, is the logical starting point, and, sadly, a great deficiency in those charged today with serious obligations requiring leadership—and listening.