You’re Not Listening: What Leaders Are Doing (And Can Do Better)

Listening requires more intentionality than we sometimes recognize. For some leaders, it’s easier to keep talking and monopolizing the conversation than to be quiet and listen. It’s impossible to count the number of times I’ve been in a room with leaders who have talked incessantly without pausing to listen.  Everyone is trying desperately to express their point to everyone in the room simultaneously, and it becomes a constant battle of the loudest voice. Consequently, the meeting ends with no clear direction forward.      

This can be quite frustrating in a group setting. Imagine for just a moment the perils it brings to a one-on-one conversation. What happens when leaders fail to listen to their team members? One dilemma has taken an hour to resolve when it may have taken only fifteen minutes with good listening and understanding. When leaders listen, they can ask pertinent questions about what they are hearing instead of asking questions that lead the conversation down a rabbit trail.    

Sitting across from a leader who anchors himself in the solution without fully understanding the deeper nuances of the problem can be frustrating and confusing to team members. Maintaining presence isn’t about what the leader says in the conversation as much as it’s about how they listen in the conversation. Listening invites deeper awareness and understanding of people and situations.   

  I will admit that this is not easy when leaders are busy with competing business demands, but it is doable when leaders consider the long-term benefits of listening. Here are a few guidelines to help leaders listen better and perhaps learn more:

  • Pause what you’re doing. When leaders pause their actions for a few moments and look at the person as they converse, they instantly add value to the conversation. In our multitasking, technologically-driven culture, it takes a concerted effort to slow down, pause deliberately and listen. This can be difficult when leaders are currently navigating an intense project with an unforgiving deadline. It takes a shift in perspective to put down the pen or to stop typing on the keyboard and set an intention to lean in and listen.
  • Get rid of distractions. Leaders can give full attention to the one in front of them when they eliminate the distractions around and in them. Cell phones are a huge disruption, but they are not the only ones. Internal thoughts can be a disruptor to listening as well. If the conversation is a replica, the leader may dismiss it mentally as a waste of time. If the leader has another appointment, he may ignore the nuances of what is communicated to figure out how to make the next appointment. Noticing when these thoughts come up is the first step to establishing a plan to remain fully present and listen without distractions.
  • Align your body language. Body language—eye contact, leaning in, and nodding in agreement—all indicate whether the leader is fully present and interested in what team members have to offer. Single-tasking in conversation with mindful body language is the best way to show genuine interest in what our team members are saying. 
  • Avoid interrupting and turning the conversation to yourself. When team members initiate a conversation with their leader, the leader mustn’t make the conversation about himself and his agenda. When this happens, no one is likely heard. Why is this? The leader isn’t listening to the team member, and the team member with a felt need is not likely listening to the leader. 

      Good leaders take time to develop their listening skills. They realize the importance of inviting team members to share information, ideas, and insights to improve the organization. Additionally, these same leaders recognize the value added to team members when they feel heard. In a world that seems to value talking over listening, growing leaders are beginning to understand the value of strategically and empathetically listening to team members.  

I’m curious. What have you found helpful to incorporate or alleviate so that you listen carefully in one-on-ones or team meetings? Leave a comment.

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