What transforms a conversation from casual advice into a constructive experience? Listening.
Hearing is a basic human function, but listening is an essential tool that a leader uses from the start and develops as she grows. It involves attentive observation of what we are hearing and then the ability to make a judgment about it.
Observing with attention involves listening with all the senses as well as our own intuition. The judgment aspect of listening implies an acknowledgment of how you are responding in the moment.
A great leader is constantly aware of the barriers that can impede effective listening. According to Warren Reed, author of Positive Listening, barriers to effective listening come in many forms but typically fall into two categories: psychological (like misinterpretations, biases, and attitudes) or physical (including external sounds and distractions like the household pet or a blinking cursor).
To develop exceptional listening skills and advance your own leadership abilities, understand these common barriers to effective listening and use that knowledge to adapt to them on the fly:
A leader is inherently in a position of power, and it’s easy to let that power get in the way. Before the thought or conversation is complete you already think you know the answer.
This type of barrier is a prejudgment. Rather than having all the answers, it is your job to coax the answers to the surface.
It sounds counterintuitive, but solving a problem too early in the process of conversation can cause an emotional barrier between the leader and his or her team that is difficult to reverse. Instead of prematurely attempting to solve a team member’s problem, give yourself the opportunity to fully understand and learn from the discussion.
This is a mode of dominance in which the leader assumes control of the conversation by interrupting. A competitive interruption occurs in order to challenge an assumption, provoke a response, influence the conversation, or impress.
Reacting to red flag language–anything that can be deemed inflammatory or emotionally difficult–can derail a conversation and short-circuit a learning opportunity. The best path is to be unbiased, let the moment occur, and respond appropriately rather than in an emotionally charged outburst.
Clearing the decks of all distraction should be the first step in an important one-on-one conversation. That means curtailing access to the Internet, waiting to eat lunch, powering down the device, and closing the door to the office. Physical distractions, the ones a manager can control, need to be handled mindfully.
In general, a good leader needs to practice handling emotions while listening. Instead of impulsively reacting, wait a moment, be silent, and see what bubbles up. This pause enables you to appropriately assess a situation and suspend the emotional reaction.
Good listening is crucial leadership tool and arguably one of the most essential skills to continually develop and keep in your arsenal. It’s a skill that a manager can constantly improve upon by reminding herself of the barriers to effective listening.