...Sit Down and Zip It..
Because, quite frankly, you’re not adding anything new to the conversation!
While I’ve always paid particular attention to leader’s listening skills, it appears that in the last six months we are being inundated with examples of those intent on change by talking over everyone else in the conversation. We’ve written about this idea of effective listening many times over the years and it seems appropriate that we do so again to reinforce the idea that leaders must listen to learn fully what is new about a given situation. If they are only interested in talking, then they are literally adding nothing new to the conversation by only repeating what they already know! What does it take, then, to zip it and listen when the first instinct is to keep talking? Based on our experience, there are three key knowledge elements to effectively listening in order to learn and understand the full scope of any issue, large or small, strategic or tactical, organizational or personal.
- Know when to listen ~ In many leadership team settings, we will pull the CEO, Business Owner, Executive Director aside and let them know in advance that we will likely call on them last when posing a question to the team. We do this because we know the tendency of most leaders is to step in and talk when there is silence. In many cases, this pattern exists to the point where even experienced senior leaders will not speak up before giving an asking glance to the senior person in the meeting. Effective listening has immeasurable value as we wrote in 2015 and begins with consciously choosing to fully understand where others fall on the issue before weighing in with their own thoughts!
- Knowing how to listen ~ In their defense, many leaders simply do not know how to listen because they’ve never wanted to learn how or did not know where to go to learn how. Such was the case many years ago when I transitioned out of the military and realized the gap in my own listening skillset. Effective listening has multiple moving parts that we wrote about in 2013. But the most important attitude behind effective listening is reflected in the anagram of LISTEN that spells SILENT. Being silent in both verbal, non-verbal and mindset allows the leader to truly listen for understanding from those who have other points of view and knowledge!
- Knowing how to ask great questions ~ Both in our own personal experiences and in our coaching practice, we’ve come to the realization that to become a more effective listener, begin by asking better questions. And by better questions, we mean asking powerful open-ended questions that, by design, empower more discussion on an issue rather than less. Last year, we wrote about making a better argument rather than raising your voice. There are so many instances where this advice needs to be taken more seriously in order to move forward as organizations and a society. The best powerful open-ended questions start with “What” or “How”. Questions that begin with “Where”, “When” and “Who” can typically be answered with one or two answers. And questions that begin with “Why” can very easily put the other party on the defensive, so avoid this one, especially as the opening question!
Listening is crucial to a leader’s understanding because it is literally the most effective way to add new information to the discussion. Many grew up hearing the expression, “Two ears, one mouth, listen twice as much as you talk.” While that still resonates today for 21st Century leaders, we will leave with maybe an easier one to remember. As a leader, the next time one is tempted to speak first because they think they know the solution, remember the acronym WAIT, Why Am I Talking? What are you adding at that moment in time that will advance an issue, especially if the rest of the team has not yet weighed in? You’ll find that your brand as a leader rises exponentially when others feel they have a voice at the table as well!
How is your listening adding value to your leadership? If you don't know, we can help.