Three Surprising Benefits from Better Listening

 

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?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

8 comments on “Three Surprising Benefits from Better Listening

  1. Listening is the cornerstone of communicating with teammates! I can’t agree more that there is a severe deficiency with most managers that I have encountered, and most could definitely use a few moments of truth about themselves, by simply asking their employees. The workers actually know what’s going on, the feelings of the workplace, and how the manager is perceived. This is a wealth of knowledge that doesn’t simply pop out.

    I would argue that you should be “meeting” (which can entail merely a 5-minute catch-up session) with your team on a regular basis. Perhaps not every week, but at least once a month would be better than most get (ie. yearly performance reviews).

    Thanks MJ!
    C

  2. Mary Jo,
    This is great advice. It is so important to be a good listener. The most difficult and important leadership characteristics to obtain are the ability to listen and understand. Through listening and understanding you gain common ground that you can build on. Thanks, Brandon

  3. Christian, you are so right. Listening doesn’t get the respect it deserves. As much as meetings get disparaged, I would argue that 5 minutes once a month isn’t enough. You should be meeting with your direct reports 1:1 on a regular basis, and as a team on a regular basis. Truly listening will take more than 5 minutes if you ask the right questions!

    Brandon, common ground is important. Thanks!

  4. This is terrific information. many of my articles suggest the need for effective listening. The question in: how do we get managers to recognize the need and the skills needed?

  5. Mike, they have to try it. Then they have to talk about what they observe when they try it. Then they have to be asked if they see the advantage – to them and to their organization – of better listening. And they need to be supported and reminded. And they need to keep practicing until it becomes a habit. (Hmm….seems to me that they could use a coach….:)). Thanks for your comment and question.

  6. Mary Jo, Thanks for the blog post. Kind of actually made me laugh because a few hours ago I myself just put up a blog about communication. I was discussing how I think communication seems to be the key in most situations. Also, listening is so important. So many times I have noticed people just don’t listen. You end up repeating yourself and getting frustrated. Communication and listening are keys if you are going to succeed in business. If you get a chance you may want to look at my blog post about communication. Thanks!
    http://ambernsteenblock.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/is-communication-the-key/

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