Awhile back I wrote an article called, Who is worth listening to?.
It’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it, but the main point was that the goal of listening is simply to make people feel listened-to.
When people feel listened-to they feel valued, confident and motivated, and when people feel not-listened-to they feel diminished, un-valued and depressed.
There was a study about this I mentioned in the article.
The Secret to having an engaged team
So the difference between having an engaged or disengaged team can be as simple as listening.
So why does this not happen as a default?
Executives tell me 3 main reasons they have for not listening.
1. I’m too busy
2. They won’t tell me say anything I don’t know
3. I won’t be able to address their concerns
The first 2 ideas I addressed in the the prior article.
But recently this third idea has come up a lot.
“I won’t be able to address their concerns”
Leaders will say to me,
But if I listen, and then I don’t do what they ask, they will feel even more like I didn’t listen because I didn’t do the thing. It will be perceived as even worse than not listening.
This is not the way it works.
Let’s separate listening from acting on the thing you listened to.
If you never listen, you will be automatically losing trust and demotivating people for all the reasons listed in the prior article.
But if you take the time to listen a few good things will happen.
1. The person does feel listened-to because you took the time — they got to talk and you got to hear
2. You may actually learn something you didn’t know which could be valuable
3. You may discover that there actually is something you can do if you don’t assume that you know what the person is going to say before you have the conversation
Here’s an example:
Person wants a promotion I can’t give
Scenario without listening:
You’re Thinking: This person wants a promotion. We are not growing. There are no promotions available. I don’t want to talk about it because I can’t do anything about it.
Person: I see no opportunities here. No one here cares about me or my career. I have no motivation to stay.
You’re thinking: I dodged that bullet, I didn’t get into an awkward conversation.
Person: I’m outta here…
Scenario with listening
Person: I am worried about my career here. I am feeling ready for a promotion but I don’t see any opportunities here.
You: I can understand why you feel that way. I see it too. We are not growing in a way that is creating new leadership positions. Let’s talk about what you want.
Person: I want to be a director-level manager
You: You know I can’t get you into that job here in the foreseeable future, but let’s talk about some career development we can do here that will get you ready for that job, even if it doesn’t happen here.
Let’s find a project where I’ll give you more authority and responsibility. Let’s focus on building your network. I will create some opportunities for you to present at the next level up, so you’ll get that experience.
Person’s thinking: I still don’t see any opportunities here, but I feel like this company cares about me. Maybe I’ll stick around and get myself ready to make a bigger jump in the future.
Remember, people work for people, not companies.
As a manager, when people go home after work and talk about the company, they are talking about YOU.
So even if the company can’t come through for someone, YOU can at least try to do something. And simply listening is a giant step forward.
Let’s do another example:
Person has ideas I don’t agree with or care about
You’re thinking: This person disagrees with the strategy and if I ask their opinion and then we don’t do it, they’ll say, “Management never listens”. It’s better to not even have the conversation.
Person: I don’t agree with this strategy, but no one cares what I think. I’ll just drag my feet and avoid doing the new work. Soon, it will all start falling apart and I will be proven right, or I’ll just leave.
Person: I disagree and I’m concerned that this will fail
You: Tell me more. What do you need me to understand about what you are saying?
Person: x,y,z …
You: I hear you. I understand why you feel that way. Let me try to explain…Here’s why we chose this path…Here’s why we’re committed to this path. Here’s what are doing to avoid risks. You make some good points, (some of which you may be able to act on–or not, now that you learned about them) but at this point we are not going to change the plan…
Will you be able to get on board with this plan? If not, let’s work on helping you find a position where you’ll be happier, as I need everyone on board with this plan.
Person: OK they cared enough to at least hear me out. They respected me that much. Now I need to decide if I can live with this plan, and if I’ll stay or go.
Always better than not listening
You might think that conversation was a waste of time. But either of these outcomes is better than not listening at all.
Because if you don’t listen, you will have a person who is not on board, you may or may not know about it, and if you don’t address it, it will create a risk in your plan.
Or if you don’t listen, a good person might be de-motivated and leave simply because they do not feel respected or acknowledged.
Sometimes people just want their opinion heard, and they understand that you can’t make the change.
If you make the goal of listening to simply make the other person feel listened to, you don’t always have to act on it. The fact that you showed the respect to take the time to hear what they think is always a positive thing.
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)