Employee well-being has become mainstream and a core part of how organisations navigated the pandemic, reports Matt Elliott, Chief People Officer at Bank of Ireland. He asserts that caring for colleagues was a strategically questionable priority previously. The pandemic illuminated the paradigm shift of more human-centered leadership and care towards employees. Providing connection through meaningful communication and develop skill sets where team members are ready and able to care for each other is a priority for line managers.
As leaders and line managers acknowledge their responsibility of care, one of the key skills is to master the art of listening. Whilst these skills are not unknown to us, they can easily be overlooked. And so what do we miss out when we are not listening and how do we become more intentional in our listening?
Let me ask you do you ever find your mind wandering and simply pretend to listen? Perhaps the speaker has triggered something in you that takes you elsewhere – you are thinking about the list of things to do or people you need to see.
It’s not uncommon for us to engage in pretend listening. We might look as if we are listening, yet in reality we are caught up in our own thoughts and feelings or are simply distracted by something else.
Creating a connection and showing you care
When we engage in pretend listening, we miss out on the opportunity to connect more deeply enabling others to feel valued. They will know that we are not really listening. They may call you out ‘you’re not listening to me!’ or worst still they may simply share surface information and withhold what they think and feel in the knowledge that you are not listening. You both leave the interaction missing out on the opportunity to connect with each other in a meaningful way.
You can overcome pretend listening by imagining your own mind as a whiteboard and clear it free from lists of things to do or places to go. Quieten your own mind, and make the decision to give your attention to the speaker, free from interruption and distraction.
An opportunity for creativity and courage
Imagine one of your team members calls you with a problem they need to solve. It’s Wednesday afternoon and they declare‘ our customer is requesting that we amend the reports and distribute 100 new copies by Friday – we don’t have enough time’.
Do you jump in before they have finished describing the issue and offer a solution? Do you squelch the ideas they have that don’t match your own and only listen to reload your position, judgement or idea?
You see how you listen depends upon your own mindset. If your mindset is one which is fixed and you assume you have the only right solution, you miss out on offering an opportunity for others to be creative and courageous as they think for themselves to solve their issue in the presence of your attention and listening to bring out the best in them.
Adopting a mindset where you listen for the potential and possibility in another and engage in generative listening will create the space for your team member to tap into their resourcefulness, build courage as they think through new possibilities and negotiate a more realistic distribution timeline with the client.
A mnemonic for the foundational skills of generative listening is the simple use of EARS:
E – engage with gentle eye contact on the eyes of the speaker as you give your attention
A – ask open questions those that require more than yes or no answer
R – resist the urge to interrupt, allow them to finish their thoughts and self-expression
S – silence will enable the answers they have been searching for. Don’t rush to fill that space.
Chance to show compassion and collaborate
Many of my clients describe their day as being filled with back-to-back meetings with no time to plan, think or engage in conversations other than work topics, now heightened by the new hybrid way of working.
When we excuse ourselves from listening to another through insufficient time, we miss out on the opportunity to show compassion and collaborate with others.
Let’s revisit the team member who has received a request by the customer to amend and distribute 100 new copies of the report. Deciding to engage in empathetic listening, we enable our team member to feel seen, heard and understood. Employing the skills of being empathetic, noticing the non-verbal cues and asking open questions, we are able to demonstrate compassion and discern there may be a chance to collaborate so you both gain from the experience.
Listening to others is one of the most valuable gifts we can offer. It’s a skill worth mastering, assuming your responsibility as a team leader to care and not miss out on the impact on the lives of others when you do.
Thank you for listening!