The Best Gift

The Best Gift

"The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer."

— Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, I had a colleague named Gary. Whenever I encountered him, we inevitably had a great conversation. It could be about spreadsheets, world peace, or something more personal, it didn't matter - I always walked away feeling great about Gary, and myself.  Why? In every interaction, I felt like I mattered to him. 

Gary was by no means perfect, and sometimes, as a boss, he had to make unpopular decisions. But ask anyone who worked with him and the response was overwhelmingly positive. “He's a great guy!” “He really cares about me.” “I trust him.”.  What makes a person so universally liked and respected?  Why was he such a talented manager, and why were the people who worked with him so incredibly loyal and engaged? Here's what Gary did so effectively:

Effective Listening

Effective listening is actively absorbing the information given to you by a speaker, showing that you are listening and interested, and providing feedback to the speaker so that he or she knows the message was received. Effective listeners show speakers that they have been heard and understood. In many ways, effective leadership is effective listening. 

Research has found that by listening effectively, you will get more information from the people you manage, increase others' trust in you, reduce conflict, better understand how to motivate others, and inspire a higher level of commitment in the people you manage. 

When a good leader shows concern for his or her team members, it inspires trust and respect. We all find great value in someone who reaches out and shows understanding. 

A good leader shows concern for his or her team members, and that fosters bonding, commitment, and trust.  Skilled listeners have less interpersonal conflict and are more likely to resolve any conflict that does arise with a win-win solution. In addition, listening enables leaders to know their teams well enough to know what makes them tick. When you know what makes people tick, you can be more effective at motivating them. Good leaders (listeners) know when people need encouragement and what kinds of things they value as a reward for a job well done.

Listening in Action

Back to my colleague, Gary. The most compelling feeling that Gary evoked was that when you spoke to him, you were The. Most. Important. Person. In. The. World. 

He was never looking over your shoulder, at his watch, or interrupting your thoughts to insert his own. Even in the midst of chaos around him, he had a way of listening to you with his full attention.  Even if he had to postpone a deeper conversation to put out the fires around him, he was gracious, empathetic and followed-up as promised.  

It is rare to be so fully seen and heard by another person. (in fact, most of us never work on our listening skills because we all think we are above average listeners!) So notice the next time someone truly tunes in to a conversation with you. When they listen without interrupting, reflect back to show that they understand what you’ve said and what you feel, and use body language that indicates their interest, how do you feel about that person? 

With Gary, I felt gratitude, trust and inspiration. He motivated me to be a better listener so that I, too, could create that feeling for others.  

What a gift to make someone feel fully heard, valued, respected. 

This is true leadership.

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