When my son was very young I was concerned that he might have a delayed speech pattern. At 2 years and several months, he didn’t use ‘his words’ very often, preferring to gesture or just toddle around waving his hands and smiling. I needn’t have worried, as once he started talking his vocabulary increased exponentially with each passing day and he became, well, a ‘chatterbox’. I’m embarrassed to admit that as a young, busy working mom I sometimes found myself tuning him out….going about my business, giving him an ‘uh huh’ or ‘that’s great honey’ periodically to pretend I was actually listening. It didn’t take him long to notice that I wasn’t really paying attention and, as a result, when he had something particularly pressing to say, he would cup my chin in his little hands, turn my face toward his and say ‘Mom!”. Loosely translated, this meant: “Stop what you’re doing and listen to me – this is IMPORTANT.”How often in our workday do we ‘go about our business’, not stopping to really hear what people have to say? Listening is perhaps the most undervalued and, in many cases, underdeveloped leadership skill. And the cost of not developing this skill is high. It robs us of the opportunity to really connect with people and, often, to learn something valuable.
Highly active, driven people have to really work at this. Here are a few tips:
Be aware of when you are not paying attention. If it’s when someone is trying to talk to you STOP what you are doing – turn away from the computer, put down the phone. Look at the person who is asking for your ear. If it’s not a good time for you, acknowledge that. “I’m preparing for my 2:00 p.m. meeting but I can see this is really important to you. Can we schedule time for tomorrow morning so that I can give you my full attention?”
Ask follow-up questions. People usually know when they have a need, but may not be skilled at expressing themselves. Ask follow-up questions, such as, ”What made you decide this was an issue now? Did something happen today/recently? Tell me more about [what happened, what you heard]”. This encourages the person to step back from the pure emotion of the incident and articulate what actually happened.
Respond to the need. Often the primary need is just to be heard, to know that someone, especially someone in a leadership role, cares enough to listen. Sometimes it’s overwhelming as a leader to think we have to solve every perceived problem that comes our way. The good news is that we don’t. We may need to simply listen and say “I hear you. Your [opinion, obstacle, hurt] matters.’ If it is in your realm of authority to help, make a plan to do so and follow-up. Do what you say you’re going to do.
There is a treasure of information waiting for us, just for the listening. In their frustration, people will bring up things that we need to hear, whether it’s information we were seeking or not.
Our greatest model for listening was Jesus. He was so in tune with people that he noticed a woman who merely touched his garment as he was walking through a crowd. He took the time to stop, ask follow-up questions and respond to her need. His hearing her led to his healing her. We each have a form of ‘healing power’ within us just by taking the time to listen.
Is there someone who needs your listening ear today?
Thumbnail photo credit: Good Wolve Blogs