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Just Listen

When was the last time you just kept your mouth shut and listened?

No really. Think about it. I would bet if you really put your mind to it, you would shocked at the last time you kept your agenda in your pocket and really engaged with the person across from you and listened.

Being a great listener is like being a great driver or singer – everyone deep down thinks they are great at it. And just like those pursuits, most folks are dead wrong if they would be totally honest with themselves.

The fact of the matter is we all love to talk and we all think we know best. Often times, Leaders who lament that their teams never come to them with good ideas would be shocked at what they are missing because they just don’t take the time to listen.

Most folks know what it means to be a great listener – but when the rubber meets the road they fail to stand and deliver. This is one of those things (like Customer service, by the way) that just takes dedication, practice, and force of will.

So here are some ideas to try:

Get out of your comfort zone: Chances are that your office – which is the ultimate home field advantage – is not very conducive to listening. With you behind your desk and your team mate on the other side, you have set up a physical barrier that will lead to stifled communication. Get out and take a walk or get a cup of coffee or head to a round conference table. Take the time to find a friendlier environment and you might just find yourself with a much more lively dialogue

Resist the urge to interrupt: I know you feel like you are super smart and have all the answers, but if you can’t keep your trap shut and let the person talking get to the point, they’ll never share anything of value. Yes at first you may feel like a prospector mining for that nugget in a ton of slag, but that’s okay. You were a young, energetic babbler once too. It’s perfectly fine to help them focus their efforts when the conversation is finished and even to ask questions to help get to the point, but don’t burst in every two minutes. This will kill their confidence and squash the conversation.

Don’t punish the messenger:  I have found over the years that when you can  foster a  spirit of open dialogue folks will let you know exactly what is going on.  Certainly there will be some pointless tidbits shared, but you will also find valuable information that will help you impact your organization as well.   You will hear ideas about process improvements, how to improve morale, and safety concerns.  But much of what you hear will be “bad news.” Resist the urge to be cross with the person brave enough to share, thank them for the honesty, and then craft a plan to course correct.

Ignore the technology.: Nothing says “I Don’t Care” like checking your phone or email while someone is trying to speak with you.  This one is particularly challenging for me, so I have to turn off my computer monitor, silence my phone, or close my laptop to make sure I don’t lose focus.  Do whatever you need to, but just be sure you are giving that person your full attention.  

Schedule time to Talk: It is absolutely understandable that you may not have time to talk at the moment someone asks for a minute.  This is where it pays to have an up to date calendar at all times.  Better to schedule a solid fifteen minute block to chat than to make someone feel rushed when they stop you.  I often get stopped as I walk through my dirt and if I am en route to someplace on a time table I will often ask if it is okay to talk later.  Try this: “Would it be okay if we spoke later today (or tomorrow) at 3:00? If it isn’t anything regarding a pressing safety or security concern I would appreciate that so I can give you the time and attention you deserve.”  You would be surprised how good that will make people feel.  Schedule the time and then live up to your commitment to talk.  If you set up appointments then cancel them or are late, that will erode your credibility.

The important thing here is the effort.  Really try to listen and make every effort to give your full attention.  Your team will really appreciate it and it will absolutely show them that you are a leader who values their opinion. That will quickly grow into a team that doesn’t let things reach critical mass. They will come to you or your leadership team straight away with great ideas and in times of discord.

So take the time today start putting these ideas into practice.  Then move to inspire your team to do the same.  After all, as a leader you can’t do it alone – you have to make sure that the leaders you depend on are being great listeners as well.

Tony Johnson Customer Service Expert | Author | Trainer | Speaker

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