Effective Listening: Necessary, But Not Sufficient

Why aren’t we better at listening? Is it really skills or something deeper?

I’ve been intrigued by a 6 month, Leadership LinkedIn Discussion asking leaders to give “one piece of advice” for new leaders. With over 1300 comments, the discussion was skewed heavily toward one topic: effective listening. How leaders “listen” trumped all other discussion threads including transparency, honesty, and knowing yourself.

Julian Treasure’s Ted Talk,  5 Ways to Listen Better, attracted 1.5M views. Clearly, we know that bad listening is dangerous, or we wouldn’t be so interested.

Bad listening…

  • is contagious
  • discourages future communication
  • disengages
  • destroys trust
  • erodes confidence
  • ?

Listening deteriorates when we are

  • rushed
  • preoccupied
  • distracted
  • multitasking
  • disinterested
  • unskilled
  • intimidating
  • already know the answer
  • don’t really want input
  • ?

We know how to listen

  • Avoid multi-tasking
  • Create a quiet time, free from distractions
  • Connect
  • Empathize
  • Summarize
  • Ask Questions
  • ?

 Perhaps the problem is larger than listening

What we label as skills problems, may be deeper. Listen for what you choose to hear.

Look in the mirror for signs of lost

  • Respect
  • Empowerment
  • Interest
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • ?
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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

18 Comments

  1. listening is hard when you have little to no white space in your day/calendar to give the persons concerns any time and attention, despite a desire to do so. Listening is hard when the person talking is an oxygen thief and finds “problems” with everything and eveyone around them. listening is hardest when, despite your best listening you do not have the power to make the change or the environment in which you work does not embrace open communication and dialogue about the impact on front line staff or managment.

    • I hear you Nicole 🙂 I think your examples are experienced by many leaders.

      I’ve thrown this at leaders in workshops, “are you listening to respond, or are you listening to understand”?

      Often, especially when things are busy, we make a judgement in a few seconds and wait politely for a break in the speaking to deliver it. The speaker generally senses any impatience on our part and either speaks faster, uses different words to say the same thing over, or both to ensure they have made their point.

      It can be a downward spiral from here, ending in both parties thinking they have just wasted their time. That’s a pretty negative outcome and these incidents can be stressful for both parties.

      Sometimes it can be more efficient to ‘give yourself’ to the conversation when you are the listener. We all know when someone isn’t really listening, so doing the basics of listening we have all learnt in workshops will help.

      It’s less stressful for both parties, and when we are less stressed we allow our higher cognitive processes to do their thing, and not let the more reactive brain centres want to simply ‘fight or flee’. Who knows, you might even book another time to continue the conversation and be rewarded with a new perspective.

      Think of someone you consider a great listener and try to emulate them. I just looked at Karin’s bio and would bet she is known for her listening skills.

      There’s some physiology that can be used to support positive emotional states that will in turn support better listening and better rewards for your time spent.

      And no,,, it’s not about slowing or relaxing, its about the ability to focus.
      Athletes have known this for years!

      Sorry for the long post, this is such an interesting topic.

    • Wow, Dallas, thanks for your insights. I love the concept of “giving in” to the conversation. What an amazing way to think about listening. I hope you will join back and enrich the community some more. Namaste.

  2. Bad listening comes from fear, envy or pride. If a leader isn’t submissive to the followers, then she/he can’t listen well. And, I don’t mean submissive in a tail-between-the-legs or I’m-a-doormate kind of way. Submissive in the; I’m-going-to-put-everyone-first kind of way. Listen well to lead well.

  3. Nicole, so great to see you here! Thanks for all these insights. You offer great fodder for future posts…you’ve got me thinking. Managing up. Dealing with negativity. Stay tuned.

    In the meantime,

    White space can be such an important challenge for leaders at every level. I would encourage anyone facing this to find a way to make some.

    Here’s a post I wrote on “white space.”

    http://letsgrowleaders.com/2012/10/16/effective_time_management/

  4. I’m a terrible technical listener: My kids know to say “blueberry pie” to get my attention and my teams know to catch my eye and make sure my hands have stopped before trying any sort of real communication. So I’ve often asked myself, why do they still bother trying to talk to me at all? I’m pretty sure the answer is: they know that I care about them as people and they know that their “voice” matters to me. How we listen doesn’t seem to be as important as how we act on what we hear- that speaks volumes!

  5. While having lunch with someone from our weekly business networking group, a friend of mine sent me a text, asking me if I could have lunch with him today.

    The only reason I knew I received a text was because my phone was on vibrate in my pocket. I never looked at the message until my meeting was over.

    My number one rule is never to look at the phone while I’m with someone else. The person I’m with is more important than anyone else. It’s my way of showing respect.

    I was paying attention to the other person, listening to the challenges in their business.

    The next day, I connected this person with a potential strategic partner. To say the least, they were ecstatic!

    The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen. That’s why I enjoy what I do.

    Everyone has a challenge. Everyone has a story. I want to hear each one and see if I can contribute to their life in one small way.

  6. I experienced a major shift when I oriented my life towards the principle that it’s more important what I listen to rather than what I say. I always try to frame my listening around the questions of “what am I learning here about a situation, a person, my actions, or what this person needs?” When I view listening as the most important thing I can do in any situation, it’s amazing how those situations transform.

    • Matt, thanks so much! Great to see you here and delighted by the referral. I am working to grow the Let’s Grow Leaders community. The more folks engaged in the conversation, the more we all grow. I agree, paying attention to where it starts really does help.

  7. Dear Karin.,
    Thank you for the previous messages. Although i couldn’t open and write anything out here.
    The next message me after some reply i get back here. I’d surely read and write down another things which are going on with me.
    Great Day ahead.

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  9. Pingback: Lead Change Group | Distraction Speaks Louder Than Words

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