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Human Touch – Listening

“I hear you, Sheryl. I so hear you,” said Derek with head tilted to one side in a distinct faux empathy manner. He grinned, paused and then in stark contrast to his previous words, he exclaimed, “so we are all in agreement then, we will proceed with my idea.” The room went quiet and the next agenda item was quickly moved onto. That’s just the way it was here. ‘Faux’. Faux sympathy, faux listening, faux collaboration. But no-one dared to question it, not what after what happened to Sheryl’s predecessor.

Leadership is about taking people on a journey. However, connection with those that you are leading is key to doing this. Building these connections needs the ‘human touch’ and, as we explained in last week’s blog, there are 4 key ingredients that help us build authentic and deep connections with those that we lead:

· Time

· Listening

· Empathy

· The extra mile

It is obvious to most people that Derek’s approach is far from utilising the key ingredient of ‘listening’. Derek himself may think that he is listening, but ‘faux listening’ is far from it. At best he may be hearing the words, but he is not listening to their content.

Hearing and listening

In the United Kingdom, many use the words ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ interchangeably. But there is a considerable difference. Hearing is defined as ‘perceiving the sound’, while to ‘listen’ is ‘to give attention to the sound’. Synonyms for listen are ‘be attentive; concentrate on; give ear to; lend an ear to; hang on someone's words’. As leaders, we can hear people’s words, but the important thing is to really listen, to give attention to the content of what someone is trying to say. We can hear the words, but are we really trying to understand their position?

Listen to understand

Steven Covey, in his seminal book, ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’ quotes one of these habits as ‘listen to understand’. He says that most people listen to have a conversation, but are we really listening to understand them? He says that when we listen to understand, we are more likely in turn to be understood. Consider as a leader, when you listen to people is it just to answer them or to give your point of view? When we listen to understand we do two things:

1. We give value to the person. Our attention, our taking time to understand their words is taking time to understand them too.

2. We can understand where they are coming from. This, in turn, enables us to consider what we want to say that may be more effective in creating connection and mutual understanding.

As a coach, we are trained in the art of listening and, more specifically, of listening to understand. As a coach, we are there to help the person truly understand their thoughts through listening and then using questions and reflecting back concepts. Coaching is a key leadership approach that has great impact when leading others. There are two simple techniques that can help us develop understanding and help the person speaking to clarify their understanding, too. One approach is to listen and then, after a while, summarise back what you think you have heard from them using simple phrases like, “If I have understood you correctly, you feel X, Y & Z are important to consider.” The person will then confirm if you have understood it correctly and if you haven’t caught it all, they will add what you have missed. Either way you understand their position. The other technique is to reflect back key words that people have said that maybe have ambiguity. These words are called nominalisations. They could mean something very different for the listener in their experience. For example, if someone says, “it’s a real nightmare working here,” their view of nightmare could be very different to what we think is a nightmare. So, reflect back the word and ask more about how it feels. For example, “you said it is a nightmare for you, what does a nightmare look and feel like for you?” Using these techniques allows you to really understand where the person is coming from. In turn you can now address the issue that is important or explain your own perspective in a way that they will understand and that might even address the issue they have.

The power of listening

In last week’s blog we said giving people time is powerful and, in fact, helps with engagement of employees or volunteers. Patrick Lencioni’s book ‘The truth about employee engagement’, explains that disengagement comes from anonymity and so when we listen, it gives time and therefore value to the person. They are then more likely to engage.

Listening, as we outlined above, also gives you clarity. It allows you to see the landscape of what employees feel. I have found that even when two of you may disagree, people are more likely to come with you on an idea when they feel listened to, even if they are not getting their way. Clarity about how people feel allows you to provide answers and to put across the vision for what you want to achieve in a more targeted way.

Listening is often described as a soft skill. I find this description amusing as listening is far from soft. It is, in fact, very powerful.


Can we help you?

How is the listening in your organisation? We can help you develop it. We have a range of engaging training and coaching sessions to help your team develop deeper listening skills. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you and your team.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now:


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