/ / Talking back to listen

Talking back to listen

As leader we all try hard to be good listeners. We practice those behaviours that we have had drilled in to us for so long – make eye contact but don’t stare; paraphrase back what you think you have heard; don’t speak, don’t interrupt, don’t smile, don’t frown and, of course, nod when appropriate. Follow these ‘five easy steps’ and you’ll soon be regarded as a great listener by everybody.

One person talking into another person's cupped ear

By now you have probably realised there is a lot more to being a great listener than the five easy steps listed above.  If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of these ‘five easy steps’, you’ll know how they can been seen as insincere, patronising and a little robotic. And you also know how you end up feeling as if you have not been heard at all – despite the ‘five easy steps’ routine. As a leader this is the opposite of how you want your team to feel – they need to know that they are being listened to, and that you actually value their opinions and what they have to say.

By analysing the behaviour of over 3,000 participants in a management improvement program, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman recently discovered that what we think makes a great listener (the ‘five easy steps’) and what actually makes a great listener are not the same. Instead, the most effective listeners weren’t just listeners at all. As well as making eye contact, nodding where appropriate they actually engaged in the conversation by talking back. Great listeners see the interaction as a conversation and ask questions that probe deeper into what the other person is saying. They seek to clarify and build their understanding of the conversation, to provide immediate feedback and to create a positive and safe environment for the other person. So the really great listeners (and leaders) seek to be empathetic, constructive , positive and interactive in their listening. They also strive to build a safe environment where everyone feels valued and comfortable in speaking up respectfully.

As a leader, listening to and understanding what your team has to say will not only help you improve your own ideas and opinions, but also make the team member feel valued and help develop their own processes. Listening and conversing shouldn’t follow a script – after all, we’re people, not robots.

Happy leading!

About the Author: Noel Reid

Noel Reid
Noel has over 30 years’ experience as an operational leader and trainer in the government, not for profit and commercial sectors. His service in the military helped shape his early leadership career and he has been able to transfer these lessons and skills to the business environment. He is a sought after executive coach who has assisted the development of senior executives in all sectors and industries. An experienced facilitator who has delivered high value training programs around the world, Noel is able to engage with the audience to maximise the learning outcomes. He holds an MBA (Leadership & Communication), an Associate Diploma of Human & Physical Resource Management, a Diploma of Training Design and Development and a Diploma of Vocational Education and Training.

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