When was the last time you went to training on techniques to improve how you listen to your employees? Taking time to create an open environment where you openly listen to your team members and take in their feedback is one of the most important actions you can take.
The reality of most management positions is that we think we should have all the answers. We put false pressure on ourselves to be the expert for every subject possible and that directions, insight and actions should all come from us. The truth of the matter is that we don’t always have the answers, we don’t always know the best actions to take and sometimes we don’t have the insight needed. The true power of leadership comes from listening to those around you. In a world where the pace of change and the pace of driving results only increases, how do we have time to stop and listen to those around us? We cannot afford to NOT stop and listen! Quit multitasking! If an employee comes to you to talk give them your undivided attention. So many times we make the mistakes of answering emails, texting, or answering our cell phones while talking to our employees. This is something I struggle with every day. A million things are going on at once! I cannot afford to not answer this email right now. By continuing to multitask we are showing that we are only half listening. This can make the person who is talking to you about a true concern, feel unimportant and undervalued.
Here are some simple exercises that can be facilitated to help build a strong culture of open dialogue, as the whole point of being able to listen to others requires the trust needed for everyone to say what needs to be said.
1. Ask for feedback regularly – Make it a common element in your communication patters. Ask for opinions, what people think, feel and how they would approach a given situation.
2. Market the ideas that were shared – Make sure to highlight ideas that were shared openly that were actually used. Link the sharing of ideas and feedback to specific actions that eventually took place. It creates a strong foundation that not only do we listen, but we take action on what we heard. This piece is missed more often than it is used, so truly pay attention to this action in all that you do as a leader.
3. Have listening sessions – Come up with various questions that you would like to hear opinions on. They could be simple environmental questions or poignant challenges that we face. Include a question or two that are introspective such “How would you approach this situation?” Or “If you were me, what steps would you take?” These types of questions flip the perceived balance of power and opens the lines of communication to flow in all directions.
These three steps are just a few of the fundamental approaches that can be used to build a culture where leaders listen as much as they provide direction. But what happens if you just struggle with the ability to truly listen? Do you just wait for your time to talk, or do you actually listen and absorb what is being said by others?