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(posted: June 25th, 2013)
Good leaders are visionaries. They see the big picture, they can see strategically into the future, and they have big ideas. Good leaders can talk passionately about their vision, and can be very articulate about the goal.
However, leaders are often less passionate with their listening.
Did you know...?
We spend 60% of our communication time listening.
We retain only 25% of what we hear.
Scary, isn't it?
One client of mine was frustrated by the inability of his staff to understand the big ideas he was really passionate about, when it seemed so clear to him. It quickly became apparent to me that he wasn't communicating effectively with them because he wasn't listening to them.
I see this in my executive level clients much more than you might imagine - the leader who forgets to listen.
When we worked together to distill his message to his staff, we also looked at the non-verbal cues that were present - Crossed arms, little to no visible reaction, no participation, no questions, no comments, no eye contact.
Had he been "listening" for these cues, he could have changed his message sooner.
Once he was able to tell his people that he was not asking them to change, just to understand his ideas and be able to speak intelligently about them should customers ask, they relaxed and engaged.
After this experience, my client understood that listening required actively paying attention to what was not being said, as much as what was, and that it was essential to communicating his vision and getting buy-in.
In the example with my client, if he had been practicing Active Listening, he would have realized quickly that something was wrong and taken steps to correct it right away. He would have saved months of discord among his people, which reduces productivity, and he also would have gotten his ideas into play sooner. In a different industry the company might have suffered from lost innovation and competitive edge, as well.
It really is a "practice", because to develop your active listening skills requires consistent work and attention.
We could talk all day about the important elements of listening actively, but there are four basics to focus on initially, and a good way to remember these skills is to keep this acronym in mind:
Finally, throughout the conversation:
Good listening can make the difference between success and failure in business.
People need to feel heard, especially in our high tech, super-connected world, where listening is so rare. If we as leaders believe that everyone around us has something unique to contribute, and we show that belief with the gift of active listening, we will be rewarded with good ideas, innovative solutions, better decision-making, and, ultimately, higher profits.
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