I wrote a post a while ago called "Watch & Listen: That's Leading?!" about the impact of watching and listening can be for a leader. I also stated that I was not very good at it. I recently had a performance evaluation and one of the blind spots I have is that I am not a very good listener. I knew this, but this definitely became reality as I listened to my evaluators share examples of when I wasn't truly listening. I really took this to heart, so I have begun a journey to improve my listening skills.
I remember when my father-in-law passed away and my son said that he was one of the people that truly "got" him. I reflected on that for a long time and still do. What did my father-in-law do to gain this teenager's respect? For a long time, I just didn't get it, but as I have reflected I realize that what he did so well was just listen. He truly listened to him. He didn't try to solve his world problems or try to direct him in some way that he thought was best for him. He just listened and asked him a lot of questions to better understand. Through it, my son began to truly understand and come to his own conclusion concerning the problem himself. This not only developed his understanding of how to work through situations, but helped him to learn that he owned it. He gained the confidence to deal with this world and all the challenges that it brings. My father-in-law instilled and grew this in my son, in the rest of his grandchildren and in me, even though I didn't know that he was doing it. I can now see and feel how impactful it made him as a leader.
As I reflected on that, I began to realize how true my personal evaluation was and about how poor of a listener I am; how I begin to process a solution to what someone is saying before they even finish their statement; and about how I already have a bias as to what they may know before I listen to them to better understand and consider what they are fully saying. I recently listened to Evelyn Glennie's Ted Talk video, "How to Truly Listen" where she talks about how professional builders of acoustic halls are now listening to feedback from the most unlikely people to gain insight and knowledge: deaf and blind people. The sounds in a hall are not only heard through the ears, but through different parts of the body. They are truly listening so that they can create a place where people understand that there is more to listening than just with our ears, but with our whole body. I have attached this Ted Talk to the bottom of my post so you can experience it as you have time.
As I reflected on Evelyn's perspective on listening, I began to see that I do have a tendency to place biases on people and that I need to truly listen to people. To do this, I need to fully hear what they have to say, ensure I understand what they are saying by asking clarifying questions, consider what they said and then, and only then, share feedback with them to enhance the conversation. This concept is one that the company that I work for now trains us on as the first part of what we call engage! training; listen!, which I have now embraced wholeheartedly. The listen! module includes four steps; (1) Hear, (2) Understand, (3) Consider and (4) Feedback. I decided that I wanted to ensure that these concepts were consistently on my mind so I made a small pocket reminder that I planned to use for at least 30 days. I have not hit my 30 days yet, but I am definitely on my way. It is helping me to remember the four listening steps when I am in a meeting, when I am at lunch talking to colleagues, or when I am at home with my wife. I am reminded that I need to listen better and talk less.
I don't know where you are in your listening skills, but I would encourage you to reflect on how well you think you listen. If you really want to know, ask those that are closest to you, like your spouse, your boss or your kids. You may think that you are having an impact on those around you now, but I guarantee you that if you improve your listening skills, you will increase your impact on them significantly. At first you may not think that you are having an impact; in fact, you may feel like you are not doing anything. But when you honestly hear them, understand what they are saying without bias and consider what they are saying by asking clarifying questions, and after all this give feedback when it is needed, is exactly how you can lead them well.
My next challenge is ensuring I am truly listening every day with each person and team. In about a week, I'll be taking a trip with my son. I will be camping and sitting around a fire with him, my brother and his two sons. My goal is to sincerely just listen to my son in particular, but also to my nephews. I want to lead them well on this trip, but also as they go through life challenges. My hope is that if I am a good listener, they will want to come to me because I listen well...that I don't just give them the answer, but to put it succinctly...I truly listen to them!