With modern day stresses taking over our lives, we tend to forget how important it is to pay attention to what is being said to us – and to how it is being said to us. The truth is, listening is the answer to most of our day to day problems – personal and professional. On the professional front, listening is considered very critical for effective communication and execution. Without the ability to listen intently, most messages can be very conveniently misinterpreted. Such misinterpretation can lead to gaps in communication – and ineffective communication spells organizational failure. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Listening is so important that many top employers provide in-house training to sharpen their employees’ listening skills. Attentive listening can lead to an enhanced degree of client satisfaction, greater productivity and proactive sharing of information that in turn contributes to better creativity and innovation. Spend some time thinking about it – your listening skills can become not only yours but also your team’s building blocks to success. Here’s a deeper insight into why listening is such a powerful leadership tool.
Listening, don’t just hear
Hearing refers to the physical process of sound entering our ears, and it is essentially an automatic process (provided your hearing faculties are functional). Listening, however, involves a lot more than just hearing. Listening requires focus. It implies paying attention not only to what is being told but also to how the subject is being communicated – this involves paying close attention to the speaker’s tone of voice and body language as well. Effective listening is a result of one hundred percent focus on an awareness of both, verbal and non-verbal communication. As a leader, listening to the needs of your team, for example, will facilitate you in providing your team with what they require in order to effectively perform the task they have been assigned, and deliver just what has been asked of them, or even better, all in time.
Activate critical thought
One definition for critical thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
Conceptualizing. Applying. Analyzing. Observation. Experience. Reflection. Reasoning.
Listening is not a passive process. In fact, as a leader who is listening, you must be as engaged in communication as the speaker. If you’re listening carefully, then you’re listening between the lines. You’re setting yourself up to gain a better understanding of what is being communicated to you – to measure the degree of concern and to effectively address it. This effective addressing of all subjects is the key to smooth organizational flow and team satisfaction. It is therefore crucial that as a leader who holds seamless function and success in very high regard that you listen – actively.
Empathy is a highly valued human emotion, even in a professional setting. It is the key to promoting honest communication up the chain of hierarchy. If your team knows that you’re being receptive of what is being said to you, that you’re listening intently and processing before you deliver a response, then you’re giving your team valid reason to put more faith in you as a leader. Your empathy will be rewarded with even greater honesty from your juniors – a secret ingredient that drives successful organizations. So someone from your team made a mistake? They won’t be too afraid to come forth and confess – and share with you what caused it. This allows you, as the leader, an opportunity to empathize with your junior, understand the problem better, help with troubleshooting and help said team member move past the issue. Maybe encourage said team member to communicate about the same with the rest of the team as a case study in a team meeting. This, in turn, can help the team become more aware of the kind of mishaps that can occur and how to avoid them and, if at all they occur again, then how to navigate and troubleshoot as a team.
Become the selfless leader
Putting the speaker first is another important aspect of effective listening – and the same, in a professional setting, again, will give you the leverage of time to understand what is being communicated to you. No matter how trivial the subject in communication may be seen to you, it may not be so for your junior/team member, who is seeking to be heard and understood, or who is seeking a solution to a problem they may have not dealt with before. It can turn out very comforting for your team to learn that you care – that you’re there to help and not just to exert authority and get the job done. You’re there not only to tell your team what to do, but also to tell them how to do it, and to help them along the way. You are your team. By being a selfless listener, you are setting an example for your team to be better listeners, consequently promoting harmonic team function. By being a selfless leader, you’re encouraging values such as selflessness and teamwork within your team – such values that won’t let you or them down.
Foretell the outcome
“Improve. Adapt. Overcome.”
Active listening enables you, as a leader, to forecast the consequence of any given situation. You can always bridge the gap with some critical thought. Maybe, allow yourself some time to process what is being communicated to you. Plan your next step meticulously. Troubleshoot at ease, yet with precision. It also really counts if, as a leader, you value every team member’s opinion. Every voice counts. You may gather the most precious pearls where you’re least expecting to find them. Keeping your eyes open for such inputs will not only give you the edge to troubleshoot effectively, but also to prognosticate the aftermath of any given situation – and how far, if at all, the team may have strayed from the ideal path. Discuss the possibilities with your team. Get the ball rolling in the direction of your desired outcome. Encourage, don’t pressurize. Motivate your team to get as close as they can to your organization’s ultimate goal.
Encourage challenging perspectives
Viewing challenges to your ideas in positive light can be more constructive than you may perceive at first. It’s not always pointless rebellion. Every mind is different and every mind is special and every opinion is of value. Critical listening encourages valuing diverse opinion and treats cross-questioning as more constructive than a mere “waste of time”. Listen, so you can understand better. Being confronted with legitimate challenges to your ideas can give you the opportunity to refine your leadership strategies to work to the benefit of your team and organization.
Music is possibly the one thing that we do occasionally listen to with complete focus, but think about it this way: Healthy conversation and input is like music to the brain. It stimulates our brain cells, and gets them transmitting and functioning faster and more efficiently. So, the next time you hear the music, sit up and listen.
This article first appeared in the print version of The Smart Manager. Click here. for similar and related articles.