Listening Levels Up Leadership

By Jane Terepocki, CPHR

In today’s business world the most crucial skill is good communication. In light of this, going back to basics in the workplace take us a long way.

Ethos, Pathos and Logos
The essentials of good communication can be traced back to Aristotle who identified three critical elements: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is credibility—why people should believe what you say.  Pathos is the emotional connection—why people should care what you are saying to them.  Logos is the “logic”—strategic thinking, problem solving and analytical skills which impact outcomes.

Researchers Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind coined the phrase “organizational conversation” to reflect the behaviour of smart leaders today.  Gone is the traditional model of “commands from on high.”  Today, top leaders engage with their employees in a way that resembles  “ordinary, person-to-person” conversation. Today, more than ever, the art of listening is in demand.

10 Steps to Effective Listening
Experienced and natural leaders know the power of listening, observing and asking careful questions to fully connect with their employees.  Some leaders are naturally good listeners, but for most it is an acquired skill.  Dianne Schilling shared “10 Steps to Effective Listening” in Forbes, which speak directly towards enhancing every leader’s communication skills.

Step 1: Face the Speaker and Maintain Eye Contact—Keep in mind that staring is impolite, as is glancing at your cell phone or computer monitor. Trying to converse with someone who is distracted sends the message that the conversation is not important.

Step 2: Be Attentive But Relaxed—Body language communicates as strongly as verbal language. If this is going to be “difficult conversation,” it is important to use breathing techniques or silently tell yourself to relax.

Step 3: Keep An Open Mind—Listen without jumping to conclusions. Some people take a long time to express what is really bothering them. Resist the urge to finish sentences even if someone is struggling to find the words to express themselves.

Step 4: Listen to the Words and Try To Picture What the Speaker is Saying—This simple method will enable you to stay focused on the speaker and not on the “laundry list” of things you need to do.  Don’t try to think what you are going to say next; if you do, you are not truly listening and may miss important key words.

Step 5: Don’t Interrupt and Don’t Impose Your “Solutions”—It is very difficult for quick thinkers to not interrupt when a more analytical person is still forming their thoughts.  However, interrupting is simply you telling the other person that you are more important.  The urge to solve the problem before all of the issues have been explored is tempting. Refrain from doing this. If you do have a great idea, ask permission to share it first.

Step 6: Wait for the Speaker to Pause to Ask Clarifying Questions—It it is important to ask questions for clarity, but wait for a pause and then ask.  This would be a good opportunity in a long conversation to paraphrase what you have heard so far to be certain you are on the same wavelength.

Step 7:  As Questions only to Ensure Understanding—One way to make sure you stay on track is to use open-ended questions. These are the who, what, where, why, when and how questions.  This allows the listener to learn more information.

Step 8:  Try to Feel What the Speaker is Feeling—Truly empathetic people often mirror in their facial expressions and bodily movements reactions to what is being said.

Step 9:  Give the Speaker Regular Feedback—This is a simple as saying “wow I can see how that would be difficult” or you can simply nod and express an occasional “hmmm” or “uh-huh.”  If this does not come naturally to you practice at home or with friends.

Step 10:  Pay Attention to What Is Not Said and to Nonverbal Cues—Some of the most important communication we receive is nonverbal.  The tone of voice, facial expression and movement of the body are clues you should not ignore. Many people will tell you what they think you want to hear while their body is saying the opposite.

For the experienced leader Schilling’s 10 points are a good reminder. For the novice leader practicing these tips will enhance your communication skills.  Moreover, while listening skills will help you with communication, you will also gain wisdom from those to whom you listen.

Silence Can Speak Volumes
On a closing note, a colleague shared an example of the power of listening in silence.  She had a very angry employee who had been fuming for days, and asked the employee to come into her office. All she said was, “I know you have not been happy lately.”  The employee responded with a simple “No.”  My colleague sat there wondering how she was going to reach her and the seconds turned into minutes, which felt like hours.

Suddenly, the employee started speaking and sharing her issues. They were able to have an open, honest discussion.  Later that day the employee emailed her to thank her and tell her how relieved she felt. That experience reinforced to her the power of listening and left her with a greater understanding of this employee.

People will respond to communication that is intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional, and with two ears and one mouth, listening is an essential part of that communication. Cultivating leadership level listening will reap innumerable benefits, for you, your team and your business.

Jane Terepocki, BA, CPHR is an HR business consultant and specialist in the areas of strategic training and people development.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2016)

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