Leadership Lessons: Hear This!

July 1, 2019
David Griffin explains how you will become a better leader if you just L-I-S-T-E-N.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who constantly talks over you? Whether it’s in a personal or professional setting, it’s not positive. As a leader, it’s extremely important that we have good listening skills. That means not talking over others.

Not all individuals do this on purpose, it’s just a bad habit that was picked up over time when they’ve constantly fought to be heard. Talking over someone could be related to many different dynamics such as how they process information, people they have previously worked with, former bosses, they’re upset or frustrated, etc. With all that said, interrupting puts a leader at a disadvantage to serve. Why? Well, if the leader is constantly interrupting others, they’re missing critical information related to the conversation. Even worse, if the leader becomes a serial interrupter, it creates an environment that reduces creativity, personal and professional growth, diverse thinking and participation. This is the exact opposite culture a leader strives to create.

A win-win situation

Now, I would like you to recall a conversation with someone who is an effective listener and how it made you feel. More than likely you felt safe in the conversation. Meaning that you were free to present ideas or thoughts that otherwise you were once afraid to offer. What does this do for the leader? It allows them to not only get vital information but to also create a collaborative environment that supports organizational development. What does this do for the co-worker? It gives them empowerment to search for solutions to issues and not be afraid to present them because they know the leader will listen and put the ideas into action.

See if using the acronym L-I-S-T-E-N, as described below, helps you become a better listener and therefore, a better leader.

L – Look the speaker in the eye.

Eye contact is extremely important to utilize but also to manage. You don’t want to have so much eye contact that you’re intimidating the speaker, but you want to use enough where they know you’re paying attention and are interested. Also, when it’s your time to respond, ensure good eye contact but again not to where it makes the interaction uncomfortable. Eye contact shows interest and confidence, so when someone is talking with you, put down your phone and get away from your computer. Make them feel welcome.

I – Inquire about the information.

Inquiry in a conversation creates a deeper level of understanding of the information, which is essential for you as a leader to ascertain. Why? Because most issues that need to be solved may not always be right on the surface so by asking questions, a leader can hopefully get to the root of the problem. Inquiry is also important when you’re learning about your people. It’s imperative to ask questions about one’s life outside of the profession because there needs to be a relationship there. This creates a bond between co-workers that can be used when tough decisions are needed. I’m learning this now more than ever and I’m grateful to learn from a leader who partakes in this practice.

S – Stop trying to formulate a response.

When someone is talking with you, are you constantly trying to figure out what to say in return? If you’re trying to design your comeback, are you really listening? Probably not. Let the speaker tell their story and really listen to them, intently. This doesn’t mean finishing their sentences. It means let them get their points out and support them with positive body language, which we will talk about later. It’s very frustrating when you have something that’s important to say but you can literally see the other person’s lips moving because all they’re doing is waiting for you to take a breath so they can jump in. Which brings me to my next point…

T – Take 5 seconds.

Take 5 seconds to process what the person just told you before returning the conversation. This allows you to really digest the information and it allows the speaker the opportunity to get all their points out. There is research that says wait 10 seconds and that works well, too. However, when we wait 10 seconds it sometimes creates an awkward silence that can be perceived as us not being interested in the conversation or paying close attention. Therefore, in my experience, 5 seconds is sufficient to process and return communication to the speaker in a smooth, seamless transition.

E – Empathize with the speaker.

Empathetic listening is focused on truly understanding the person who’s speaking with you. This means no judgement during the conversation. You’re really digging deep to connect emotionally with someone to show compassion and understanding of what they’re speaking about. You may not have been in their shoes before but, as a leader, if you can empathize with them, they will see that you care and more than likely open up further.

N – Notice body language.

There is an abundance of studies regarding the importance of body language and non-verbal communication. As a leader, you must have a skill-set that allows you to practice good body language and non-verbal communication but also recognize when someone is presenting conflicting body language with their words. What does this mean? It means don’t perform other duties while someone is speaking with you. Also, smile, nod throughout the conversation, lean in to show interest, and open your posture to create a comfortable environment. So, unfold those arms, uncross the legs, and turn towards the speaker. This gives them confidence that you’re interested.

Also, pay attention to the body language and nonverbal cues of the speaker. This will allow you to recognize if they’re speaking to you because they “have to” or because they “want to.” There is a major difference and body language can tell you this better than any words that can be spoken. Sit back and watch how leaders are embraced in your department by others. What I’m referring to will be quite obvious.

Practice what you preach

Remember, sometimes it’s better to just listen. After all, to be a leader you must be willing to serve, which means you’re willing to LISTEN and stop talking. We teach our younger firefighters to listen intently so they can gain knowledge and the respect of others. So why when we start to progress in our careers do we forget this and believe we must talk over others to get our points across? We really don’t. Take a deep breath and listen to your people. Does this take up more time? Of course. Trust me, I get it. We’re all busy, but it’s your job as a leader to carve out time in your day to listen intently to your team. If you don’t make time to listen to them, you’re not going to have many followers. This is fact and has been proven time and time again in history.

But hey, if you keep interrupting, you’ll eventually have no one to talk over because no one will want to talk with you. As a leader, that’s not going to work, is it? Not even close. You won’t have any followers because you simply won’t listen to them. Good luck trying to lead like that. Let me know how that works out for you. 

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