There is something that our culture of busy is negatively impacting on that we absolutely need to remain relevant in leadership and business. It’s a leadership soft skill that’s often overlooked for those that are more obvious and perhaps glamorous like charisma for example. But it’s the thing that leaders need to hone to attract and retain talent, increase engagement levels and build inclusive cultures.
It is the skill of listening to hear.
In his book Deep Listening, Impact beyond words’ Oscar Trimboli says “the modern workplace creates so many distractions that we are too easily lost in our own mind before we are ready to start a discussion with someone else.” He shares what not listening is costing us, which is significant in this crazy, complex world we are operating in, and what the benefits of deep listening are which include clarity, connection, learning, understanding, and joy.
It’s interesting in our technological world where we now have devices that listen to us. You will hear people complaining about the invasion of privacy where, often unknowingly, our smartphones are carefully listening to us – the words we say the sites we visit – so they can learn more about us and tailor solutions to our needs. We have the introduction of home devices such as Alexa and Google home that do the same things. And of course, there is Siri! Through our instruction, the creators can learn about what we are doing and what we want. They can adapt and innovate accordingly and identify required changed quickly remaining relevant to their marketplace. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.
In my opinion, deep listening is now critical for leaders to create a meaningful connection with their team, especially when we now have five generations in business now. We need to listen to our people to understand what motivates them, what they value and what their expectations are if we have any chance in creating a culture that is supportive and inclusive of such huge diversity that we are now experiencing. It is also crucial that leaders slow down, remove assumptions and listen to what is being said and importantly what is not being said to identify if one of their team is struggling or experiencing a mental health issue. These situations are often not volunteered but identified through silence or noticing abnormal behaviours. It’s the art of listening that plays a big role in both of these areas – culture and leading a healthy workplace.
That being said, having the time to listen can be a challenge. Where we are pressured to do more with less time and time is a scarcity, the preference can be to do things as quickly as possible relying on email, text or communication platforms such as Slack to quickly communicate with others. We can achieve a result in seconds rather than having a conversation with someone that could take ten times the amount of time. It’s a reality and something we need to be very aware of and balance for want of a better word.
So where do we start to be a better and deeper listening? Trimboli says there are five levels of deep listening:
- Listening to Yourself – you need to identify what is running around in your mind and remove the clutter before you can truly listen to others.
- Listening to the content – exploring the landscape of the content, which are the words that are spoken.
- Listening to the context – The context is formed by the content but by asking questions you can explore the context in more detail to help your understanding of what is being said.
- Listening to what is unsaid – Research shows that people only speak 125 words but their mind is processing 400 words per minute so there can be a disconnect from what they are saying to what they mean. Here again, curiosity and good questioning techniques are important.
- Listening to the meaning – Content, context and the unsaid all contribute to the meaning. Meaning can be created for the person speaking, the person listening and collectively and will help us to make sense of the discussion.
It does seem counterintuitive to be constantly suggesting that we need to slow down and notice what is happening around us when our world is just so fast and furious but we really must. Whilst technology is taking the lead on listening to stay relevant, leaders need to be doing the same thing. Providing the space for another person to be heard and understood is priceless and certainly creates the level of impact you are seeking as a leader. You will know when someone is truly listening to you because it’s unfortunately rare but the feeling of being valued is one you will treasure. We have the opportunity to give this to others.