One thing I’ve found that separates the good leaders from the not so good leaders is the ability to listen. And not just the ability to listen but to actually “hear” what’s being said. That means listening with a new lens, or more accurately a crystal clear one.
There are a couple of ways that good leaders do this. First, it means that while listening, you’re not framing up what you’re going to say or waiting to talk. If you’re waiting to talk, you’ve stopped listening. You have formulated what YOU want to say on the subject and want to get your opinion out. As humans, we listen for matches, something similar, some past experience, some piece of knowledge that connects us to the speaker. The problem with this is that we are so busy searching our memory banks, forming up our thoughts that the listening brain shuts off. Ever been in a conversation when suddenly you didn’t know what was just said? You were preparing what you were going to say or finding matches to something that was said earlier. ALL of these patterns make us bad listeners.
To be listened to feels like being cared for. Try to recall a time when you felt “heard,” you had the sense that someone just got you, and I will show you someone who was a good listener. This is not about agreement or sharing the same point of view, it’s about hearing another’s. Great leaders have the ability to put aside their views and opinions and truly listen to what’s being said. This means putting all your matching and waiting to talk behavior on permanent pause. What you will hear will be very different than if you don’t. You’ll be able to hear the speaker from that crystal clear lens. As if you were just learning how to speak and everything was brand new – a sense of wonderment at what is being said.
Ever heard the term “listen newly”? This is what I mean. Listen as if you haven’t heard it before, don’t have an opinion on it or a thought to add. A while back I wrote a piece on the downside of being an expert – research has shown that experts defend their positions vs. being open to differing points-of-view, thus preserving their expert status. It’s like acquiring a piece of real estate in the 1800’s – you had to constantly defend it while never having time to tend to it. The opinion or piece of land, in this case, can become fallow or worthless. Passed over because the defense was taking up all the resources.
Great leaders listen well. They realize there are many more opinions than theirs and that the best ideas come from differing points of view. Great solutions, innovation, and diplomacy are all rooted in listening well. Listen first, ask questions second, and give opinions lightly and you’ll be surprised at what you’re able to hear – newly.