Many of the leaders I’ve worked with over the years can improve their listening skills. I certainly can improve my own, and chances are that you can get better at it too. I’ve seen that the simple act of listening can improve a leader’s relationships with others in many ways that go beyond just hearing things better.
When a leader engages our executive coaching services, many times we have the opportunity to conduct stakeholder interviews. This consists of asking a few strategic questions of the leader’s manager, peers, employees and others they work with. We start by asking about the leader’s strengths and opportunities for improvement, and drill down into the answers to get more information about what each stakeholder can describe as an “observable behavior”.
We find that “Talks too much”, “Interrupts others”, “Distracted in conversation” and “Doesn’t allow for dissenting views” are cited frequently in our interviews as improvement opportunities for the leaders we work with. These behaviors are the more obvious ones that may be improved by better listening. There are also some less than obvious behaviors that can be improved when a leader learns to listen better.
Here are some surprising things that leaders can improve by increasing their ability to listen:
Inclusion: When you listen better, people feel included. They’re more likely to speak up, offering opinions that can help your organization. Likewise, when employees are included, they will be more inclusive toward others – and that’s good for business.
Empathy: You can increase your own sense of empathy and help others to feel that you understand them by listening better. When you really listen, you may find yourself walking a mile in others’ shoes by empathizing with the situations they are in. That deeper understanding can help improve relationships, open opportunities for collaboration and assist in finding solutions.
Innovation: Wouldn’t you love for your organization to reap the benefits of greater levels of innovation? With so much emphasis on the importance of creativity in our workplaces, I have yet to see “listen better” as a tool to increase it. It makes sense; when you listen well, people are more willing to speak up on new ideas and different ways of doing things.
I’m pretty sure there are other surprising benefits to learning to listen better. What benefits have you noticed?