Sunday, May 16, 2010

Listenting as a Leadership Skill

"One of the easiest human acts is also the most healing. Listening to someone. Simply listening. Not advising or coaching, but silently and fully listening." Margaret J. Wheatley

If you ask people about listening, about what is happening during a conversation, most people are ruefully honest. They admit they are often thinking about what they want to say in response. Or they acknowledge that they are really just waiting for their turn to talk. And that's in a one-on-one conversation. We all know it's even worse in a meeting or presentation especially if we have a device with us that allows us to check our e-mail or read a text or see who just called and left a message.

Listening well means we have to let go of our own agenda and just hear what the other person needs to say. Listening well takes time; it takes being willing to let the other person find their way to what they need to say. Both of these acts are difficult, but it seems to me that the most difficult part of listening for most of us is the need to be comfortable with silence. When someone needs to tell us a story that is difficult or important, it can take courage to say what needs to be said. It can be difficult to find the words. And so the listener must wait, patiently, quietly, openly and that may be the hardest task of all.

Listening well is a crucial skill for leaders. Leaders have to be able to hear what is being said and, perhaps most importantly, what is not being said. Leaders have to be willing to hear hard truths so they need to encourage others to share what is important to them individually and to the organization. For that to happen, leaders have to be able to listen openly and to refrain from becoming defensive when they don't like what they hear. When leaders can't do this, then organizational members become unwilling to take the risk of sharing their perspectives.

How are you at listening? Really listening as Wheatley describes it - listening without advising, coaching, judging, or preparing to jump in. Can you listen to someone's story without trying to fix things? Can you hear a hard truth with an open mind and heart? This week, why don't you pay attention to your listening and see what you learn? If someone comes to you with a concern this week, can you take a couple of deep breaths before you answer and see what happens? They may find they have more to say or you may find a better response. Even more basic, can you refrain from looking at your e-mail during the next meeting you attend no matter how boring the meeting may be? Even a dull meeting is a good place to practice real listening; you may find what you learn surprising.

Good luck with your listening this week - I hope some readers will be willing to share what they discovered.

Take care,


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