I believe that after integrity, listening is the second most important leadership skill.
And it is also one of the most difficult.
Listening well is hard.Listening well, consistently, is even harder.
Lately, I have been paying more attention to what is happening when the listening is good.
The key is having some good buckets– categories to help you organize what you hear, and to feed it back.
People need to know that you have heard them that you are with them and that you got the gist.
Buckets help you organize your listening and feedback.
One on One
Imagine an emotional co-worker coming to you with a long story about why a project is in jeopardy. You listen intently to what she has to say, and look for the main ideas.After she is done, you can respond with empathy and understanding.
“I am hearing three main concerns here let me see I have this right “and then spill your buckets.
Helping someone to organize their own thoughts makes them feel better, and usually calmer. Situations seem easier to tackle when they are simplified into groups.
This also works in larger contexts as well. I recently watched an executive who was hosting a big conference get up every 3 hours and feedback the big ideas he heard from each speaker. He put his buckets on display, reinforced key messages, and modeled the level of listening that should be happening.
I have also used this technique in large town hall meetings. Rather than respond to every comment, I listen intently and then share (and respond to) the main buckets of issues.
There is value in the trying
Of course sometimes, your buckets will be wrong. That’s okay.
It at least helps the conversation along in a productive way.
Try taking a bucket to your next meeting. It’s exciting to see what might fill it up.