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Trust is at an all-time low in America organizations. It’s no wonder when you consider how little respect employees get from above. When I visit organizations, staff members tell me about problems. More interestingly, they tell me their innovative ideas to fix the problems. “What a great idea,” I say. “Have you shared your thoughts with your boss?”
Their response typically is: “Oh, he never listens to me.” Or: “Yes, but she hasn’t done anything about it; she never does.” When that happens a few times, people stop sharing their ideas to improve the organization.
The most successful organizations make sure people listen…to employees, to customers, to outside opinion leaders, to critics. Listening builds trust and respect. Listening solves problems.
But listening is not easy
You’ve had a lifetime of not listening well. And you are just like most of the rest of the world.
It is no wonder we aren’t better listeners:
- It is not taught in school.
- We learned not to listen from our parents and teachers who didn’t listen to us. We have no role models we can emulate.
- The most typical responses we get when we are frustrated, hurt or angry are non-acceptance. Others tell us we shouldn’t feel that way because it really is not that important. (This response tells us our feelings have no validity to the other person.)
Here is one way to remember to be a good listener.
Create an imaginary new tool for your leadership communication toolbox.
It is a piece of cloth about six-inches long and one-inch wide. A zipper goes down the middle, but it doesn’t open. On the back is an adhesive that allows you to stick it on other surfaces. Where do you think you should put it?
That’s right. Across your lips. I call this the ZIP-IT tool.
This passive listening tip works wonders when you remember to use it.
But to be even more effective when listening, occasionally feed back a very brief summary of what you heard – paraphrase. Or simply repeat the last word or two someone says. He or she will usually keep right on talking. Keep paraphrasing until the person has told you everything they want to say. Listening is like peeling an onion, which gets you to the root of the problem.
Do not change the subject or take over the conversation
It is natural when talking with others to want to tell them what you are thinking. Most of us are much more interested in what we have to say than what someone else is saying. While listening, our brains are constantly thinking of images, sounds and feelings related to what we have heard. Our brains race along at about 4-5 times the speed of the words we are hearing. It is hard to pay attention.
I have been very fortunate in life because I learned active non-judgmental listening when my first child was a year old. That was 42 years ago – and I kept working to get better at it over the years. I wanted to be a better father than mine. I wanted to build a relationship with my son, which I didn’t enjoy with my dad. (I had to wait till I was grown before my dad and I learned to love each other and share our feelings.)
The magic of listening
When I teach managers and leaders listening skills, magic starts to happen.
- An insurance company manager said he had had the longest conversation ever with his teen-age daughter. They talked for over an hour after she told him he wasn’t listening and he remembered his training. He was overjoyed and so was she.
- A school superintendent told me that phones in principals’ offices were ringing less often after his staff had begun to listen before jumping into problem solving.
- Managers say problems between different parts of the organization get solved. People begin to understand the viewpoints and needs of others.
Make listening a daily goal until it becomes a habit. Teach others to do it. You will reap many benefits. And people will love you for it. You will begin to build trust!