If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales? What about listening? What if you had a listening culture where everyone truly stopped to hear what the other person was saying?
A listening culture transforms relationships, makes customers feel valued, gets to the root cause, attracts business
Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.
So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these seven approaches.
1. Tell the Truth
Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS.
If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say.
A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor.
Encourage transparency and truth-telling, starting at the very top.
2. Be Interesting
Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.
3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist
Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.
4. Be Interested
To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.
Learn the art of asking great courageous questions.
5. Reward Transparency
If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Drama feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.
6. Encourage Field Trips
One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures, and successes.
7. Get Social
Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well.
2021 Update on Creating a Listening Culture
Over the last 5 years since the writing of this article, I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of research and writing on both sides of the listening and speaking up dynamic. And, have worked with leaders all over the world in our leadership development programs.
We’ve also written two books since then. Winning Well: A Managers Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul is a PRACTICAL guide for human-centered managers to get breakthrough results.
And our latest book Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates is based on our extensive research with the University of North Colorado. You can download the first chapter and the foreword by Harvard’s, Dr. Amy Edmonson here.