What does it feel like to be truly listened to?
Recently, I asked a large group of leaders this question and the responses revealed feelings of being valued, understood, respected, appreciated, validated, loved, heard, empowered, and encouraged. It seems a common experience for most, given the number of times I have asked this question to different groups. The responses are universal. The impact of being listened to is a deeply human and meaningful experience.
How good a listener are you?
Later, I asked this same group of leaders how good a listener they thought they were. On average they rated themselves 4 or 5 out of 10. The most common barriers to their listening being easily distracted, jumping to conclusions, and crafting a solution before the person had finished speaking. Self-awareness is a great starting point. When we identify any gaps, we can do something to improve.
Whilst we know that when we listen to another with intention, free from interruption and judgement it has a profound impact on the way they feel, think and act, we still overlook our capacity and capability of listening well.
Why should being a good listener matter?
It matters because as a human being, we are relational. Relationships are crucial to our survival and they provide environments for our development and enhance our life and work opportunities. In my experience, listening is the currency of relationship. It enables deeper connection, a solid foundation to appreciate our differences, and a way to generate the best thinking and self-expression in another.
An African leader referenced on Simon Sinek’s A Bit of Optimism podcast with Jean Oelwang, said:
“If you don’t listen to someone, it’s telling someone you don’t exist”
This resonates with the work of John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Institute, who found that in a relationship, when we fail to listen to our partner, we overlook their bid for attention. When not listened to, they feel as if they don’t matter.
The impact of listening to others is right up there with love. In fact, I think it is a form of love. Being willing to listen to another is being willing to invest in the relationship. When another feels listened to, a deeper connection emerges, trust is generated and greater thinking and expression of feelings are revealed.
It matters because when we don’t listen others experience the opposite of what I share above. Equally when listening is absent and the communication becomes simply transmission of thoughts and opinion, quality of thinking reduces, poor decisions are made and overall performance is reduced. Research from The Workplace Communications and Technology Productivity Report states that large businesses lose an estimated $50m a year due to miscommunication where poor listening leads to misunderstanding, low engagement, and reduced productivity.
Tom Peters, co-author of In Search of Excellence refers to the 18-second manager, who interrupt team members after 18 seconds of their speaking leading to feelings of frustration, not being valued or appreciated, lack of motivation, not feeling heard or understood, lack of empowerment and disconnection resulting in lack of discretionary effort and contribution. Peters went on to say:
The single most significant strategic strength that an organisation can have is not a good strategic plan but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organisation
It seems that we don’t always embrace an open, learner mindset nor exercise our skills to the optimum when it comes to listening. In reality, I think we can all sharpen our listening mindset and skills.
What do you think? Are you a lazy listener?
Take a few moments to answer these questions for yourself and decide.
- I am easily distracted when listening to another
- I interrupt others, often unwittingly
- I tend to jump to conclusions or make stuff up when I have heard enough
- I fill the gap of silence as it can feel uncomfortable
- I share what I know more than I ask open questions to discover more
- I create a solution for the person speaking before they finish the story
- I resist others’ point of view on certain subjects which I feel strongly about
If you answered yes or sometimes to any of these questions, stay tuned for next month’s article where we will take a closer look and what gets in the way of our listening and how to mitigate any skill gaps and listening biases in order to increase our impact and contribution in the world as a great listener.
Thank you for listening!
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