Listening is a fantastic tool in your leadership armour if used correctly. Lots of people reading this will think that they listen really well to colleagues, but is this really the case?. Listening is actually a science and an art if done in the correct way, it’s not just about using your ears but far more. It’s about using all your senses and really understanding all the different types of listening skills. In this blog I will take you through each type of listening state and how to make a simple listening strategy.
Simon Sinek in his “start the spark” speech said “when you speak last you empower your employees to voice their opinions and beliefs without you butting in”. “You also become smarter as a leader, since you get to hear all your employees’ thoughts and suggestions”.
Let’s explore the 5 listening states that are most commonly used. The important thing here is to recognise when you are in a certain state. There is a clear and distinct advantage as you might expect by being in the active or empathetic listening states:
This is a listening state that lots of us seem to use quite frequently. Generally this is a very lazy listening state to be in and can do the most damage. It is quite easy to see if we are being ignored through body language, tone and language used. If it’s easy to spot then you can bet your bottom dollar your employees notice, and it certainly won’t do you any favours as a leader.
Similarly to ignoring lots of people employ this state frequently, I call it the nodding dog technique. Put simply you are nodding your head agreeing with the person you are listening to when in fact you are thinking about your dinner or what’s on TV tonight. Whilst from an outward view its not easy to see you are not listening, but actions or lack of speak louder than words this does normally come back to haunt you. As you are not paying attention, agreements, commitments are all forgotten and that as a leader loses trust from their employees.
Filling in the gaps, as I call this one. Thats where you seem really engaged, nodding head, smiling and then start finishing off sentences for the colleague you are listening to. Many people are polite so usually agree with you, but this can be really frustrating if someone is talking to you about something sensitive, you then say you agree and say how it’s happened to you in the past. People take cold comfort from this state and think people will respect you more if you can demonstrate you have done that and worn the t shirt. Nothing I am afraid is further from the truth.
By far this is the most effective listening skill. This is where you give 100% attention to your colleague and think about nothing else. You say nothing until the colleague has finished talking, you leave a gap to reflect and show thought process around their discussion with you. This is true engagement and employs the skill of silence.
Say less and listen to achieve moreChris Webb
Again this like active listening is a very successful skill to use. Empathetic listening is about listening without making any judgement. The skill here is understanding how the colleague feels without patronising them. Note to remember here is empathy is not sympathy, sympathy is when you agree and feel sorry for someone. This generally makes someone feel worse than when they first decided to talk to you.
The listening strategy
To be a great listening leader it’s one thing understanding the 5 listening states and recognising when you are dipping into and out of them. It’s totally another thing having a listening strategy. So what exactly do I mean by a listening strategy?
Start with a plan
Preparation is key, and this is the number one stage to the listening strategy. It’s important you think about questions you could be asked before you enter into a listening phase with the colleague or employee. Don’t limit yourself to material questions but also remember that empathetic listening is a very successful state, so think about how I would want the colleague thinking, feeling, saying and doing as a result of your discussion.
Listen and do nothing
The second stage of the listening strategy is listen to learn. If you really want to listen well then you have to listen with curiosity. Lots of people usually listen to be polite, yes it’s important to be polite but you do need to listen to keywords or phrases that’s going to help you support the colleague or employee in the end.
Ask the right questions at the right time
Stage three is knowing when to ask the right questions, generally this comes at the end of the dialogue from the colleague or employee. If you make a couple of notes through the dialogue and start your response by a sum up question such as “So just so I am really clear you want my help managing a poor performer”? and relay some key one liners they have actually brought up, you then have them on your side. By doing this shows you have listened to their issues and truly want to help.
In this stage ask more questions than give answers, it’s important that the colleague or employee thinks for themselves. A simple second question after this first summary question could be, “What do you think you could do to start tackling Roberts performance issues?” etc. If preparation has been completed these questions will be waiting for you to answer.
Provide useful feedback
Good feedback is the core of a good team, and the last stage of the listening strategy. Good feedback doesn’t mean that it has to be all positive but most definitely constructive. Constructive feedback that is delivered well actually helps the person move forward. If you listen intently enough you will collate examples to back up your comments and not leave any ambiguity or bad feeling.
“If we ever finish a conversation and learned nothing surprising, we weren’t really listening.”
Listening is difficult, however you have got to want to do it. The more you practice the easier it becomes. When you listen to someone, you show respect. People recognise that, and they will most likely reciprocate by listening to you. Its like laying a foundation for a relationship, even if its a short-term relationship.
Additional reading you might enjoy;
- How To Be A True Servant Leader?
- How To Be A Better Leader In 2021?
- How To Be An Emotionally Intelligent Leader?
- The Friday Bitesize
- The Friday Bitesize
- Why Leaders Need To Stop Pushing Themselves Too Hard
- The Friday Bitesize
- How An Expert Leader Encourages Collaboration?
- How A Great Leader Inspires Purpose In People
- How A Strong Leader Plans For Success?
- How To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence As A Leader?
- 7 Quick Ways To Make Happy Employees As A Leader.
- Toxic Leadership, How To Not Fall In The Trap?
- How To Survive As A Retail Leader In 2020?
- How To Be An Expert Listener? Tips A Great Leader Can’t Do Without
- How Important Is Development & Progression To Senior Leaders?
- How To Prioritise Your Time As A Leader?
- How True Leaders Inspire? 5 Principles You Absolutely Need
- How To Understand Leadership Models? 7 New Types For Innovative Thinkers
- How Do You Improve Productivity As A Leader?
- How To Develop Assertiveness As A Leader?
- Why Is Image So Important ? How To Create A Powerful Brand
- Does Your Leadership Style Scare Your Employees?
- How To Successfully Implement And Sustain Change
- How To Delegate For Success And Empowerment?
- How To Network Effectively? Tips That Will Make You Shine
- How To Lead In Tough Times? 4 Amazing Principles
- How To Influence Upwards
Hi! I`m Chris Webb, I live in the South East and started Leaders Retail Consultancy in 2019. Before freelancing, I was a senior retail leader for a number of the UK’s top retailers gaining experience over 23 glorious years. When I am not coaching I enjoy spending time with the family or in the gym.
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