I don’t know if you have noticed, but over the last few weeks I have been talking about listening and the benefits this can deliver to us as leaders and to our teams and organisations. It is clearly a skill that we should all be looking to enhance (or develop) in ourselves and our teams. Whether you’re an expert, have a little training, or are simply using your intuition, the verdict on listening is well and truly in: you should do it.
So why don’t we?
Ongoing research by David De Cremer and others is finding that leaders often undermine their own efforts to create dialogue between themselves and the members of their team. Despite recognising and agreeing that everybody benefits when employees are able to speak freely, leaders are not succeeding in creating effective dialogues, and in many cases actually treat employees who do speak up more harshly than others.
Part of avoiding this pitfall is to regulate our own emotions. We often feel hurt, upset or defensive when people criticise us. I’m no stranger to this; after all, we’re only human. What we should do is recognise that this constructive feedback (criticism) is, in most cases, not directed at us personally but aimed at helping us become better leaders. So we need to learn how to control our negative emotions when receiving such feedback.
Another way to create an open environment where open and honest discussions are considered the norm is to instigate these critical conversations yourself. Lead your team in a debate that challenges the norms, brainstorm alternatives to an idea, or just sit around and discuss different opinions. Over time these sessions will become more and more productive as your team feels more comfortable expressing themselves, and you become more comfortable receiving their feedback.
This won’t (and doesn’t need to) happen overnight. If this approach is new to you, take your time and hasten slowly. The important thing is to not be disheartened and to recognise the value having a truly open dialogue with your team brings. Remember, we’re being critical of ideas, not people.