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Here's A Big Reason Your Team Isn't Listening To You

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"I'm getting angry at myself just practicing these things!"

The comment by a business owner in my leadership training session caught me off guard. When I asked him to explain, he responded with, "I know the value of listening, but I won't take the time to do it in the real world, and I know it has hurt my business."

The participant went on to discuss how he should listen more intently to his customers when they have problems, and to his employees when they want to talk. Not wanting him to get so down on himself, I reminded him of the Asian proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is NOW." He could start being a better listener today.

Listening. It happens so rarely these days. Our over-packed schedules have led us to listen long enough to react to what we think others are saying instead of being fully present and focusing on what the words, silence, and body language of the person in front of us (or on the phone or a video call) are telling us.

Your Team Isn't Listening

The ultimate consequence of not listening well to others is that they don't feel seen, heard, or understood. Your team members aren't as engaged in their work, they question if you really value them as a person, and they may frequently tune out when you are communicating with them. This poor habit makes your job as a leader exponentially harder.

Are you curious about how well you listen? To find out, read over these three levels of listening (more fully defined in this Co-Active Coaching article), and think about the last conversation you had. Which level were you working from most often?

Level 1:

Your awareness was on yourself more than the other person. You thought about questions you would ask next while the person was talking. You were aware of other noises around you and your attention might be briefly drawn to them from time to time.

Level 2:

You had a sharp focus on the other person. If necessary, you could have repeated almost every word they said. You were less aware of any external noises or distractions.

Level 3:

You noticed not only the words, but the energy with which they were said, the pauses between words or sentences, and changes in body language (if face-to-face). If asked at any moment, you could have accurately described the mood of the conversation and the person with whom you were speaking.

So what's the verdict for you? I bet there is room for improvement, right?

As you know, becoming a deeper listener doesn’t just happen. It takes practice. The good news is that you can practice in any conversation, not just in those with your team. Don't tell my friends (or family), but some of my best practice moments have come from interactions with them.

The good news is that you can practice in any conversation, not just those with your team. Don't tell my friends (or family), but some of my best practice moments have come from interactions with them.

Some techniques I find helpful to improve my listening include:

  • Removing as many visual distractions as possible. Even when I am on the phone I try to position myself so I am looking out a window to reduce the temptation to look at a computer screen.
  • Slowing the conversation down and allowing space for reflection on what has just been said before making a comment or asking a question. I've trained myself to take a deep breath before responding or using a transition word like "interesting..." to keep me from jumping immediately into a response.
  • Repeating back what I just heard and asking the other person if it’s a correct articulation of what they said. Phrases like, "So it sounds like..." or "I sense you are feeling..." or "Do I hear a hint of...?" are quick ways to acknowledge that I am focusing on them and not the issue, challenge, or opportunity they have brought to me.
  • Being attentive to when the person starts talking louder or softer, faster or slower, more positive or negative. Saying something like, "Wow, you seem really ___________ (insert perceived emotion) about ...," causes them to go deeper in their explanation.
  • Asking questions about them-NOT the situation. Questions such as, "What's difficult for you about the situation?" or "What do you want to have happen?" help me to determine how I can best help them move forward.

If you're still not convinced of the power of listening deeply to others, think of those people in your life who have listened (at Level 3) to you. For those people you would be willing to do almost anything, right? The little bit of extra time they took to see, hear, and understand you made you feel like the most important person in the world to them at that moment.

Now... imagine what your team could accomplish if every individual felt that way about YOU!

Written by: Jones Loflin

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