Have you ever done a “listening course?” Probably not. It’s far more likely you have done presentation, speaking, and/or negotiation courses. Most programs for professional development that relate to communication have to do with how we present ourselves and how we speak versus how we listen.
Collaborative leadership requires active listening, willingness to consider, validate and explore others’ ideas, and being open to ideas that are not already in your “mental File Cabinet.” Given the cultural emphasis on our personal presentation and communication style you may not have considered how much impact how you listen has on your conversations, their effectiveness and their outcome. So what prevents you from listening? At first it may be a response to personal beliefs about leadership. Many believe that leaders should be steering, requesting or perhaps even demanding things from their team instead of listening.
But there’s more to it. I find that underneath many leaders avoid certain conversations and/or people out of their fear that if they listen, they will have to agree. In these cases they have presumed that the conversation or person will be bringing up ideas that are not part of their historic mental File Cabinet of ideas and beliefs. They are unwilling to even entertain unfamiliar ideas, let alone change any of theirs.
There is an important piece here–the option to say “no.” It is key and its use is closely correlated with courage, or the lack thereof. (By courage, I’m referring to the poet David Whyte’s view, which he defines as “developing a friendship with the unknown.”)
Here’s the deal. You can listen generously and openly, consider the other’s ideas and proposals and then say “no,” if you still aren’t enrolled. The majority of people will be more thrilled by your willingness to consider their views than put off by your “no.” After all, you have already been saying no by not listening. Now, you are being authentic, after genuinely considering the views of others.
So the next time you see that person coming towards your office, pause and listen to the story you are telling yourself about what’s next. “I’ve got too much to do to listen to them.” “If I stop and pay attention they will never leave…” What if that’s all mental defense, protecting your cherished beliefs and avoiding your own discomfort at possibly having to say “no?”
What if you get courageous? What if this time, you listen openly and with genuine interest? I refer you back to the quote that started this post “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” –David Oxberg
What kind of positive impact could listening have on your relationships and your team?