Listening: Your Leadership Superpower
Listening, not talking, is the key to leadership success. Why? Because leadership is inherently other-centric. When you can effectively listen to another person on your team you actively demonstrate your interest, engage with him in his story and build trust. And, as a listener, you will learn a new perspective, gain valuable insights and empower your team by letting them solve their own issues. Listening is truly your superpower as a leader.
What’s more, it has been proven! In a study from 2017 by Zengler Folkman, 577 leaders were surveyed about their preference for listening or speaking. Then their reports were surveyed about the effectiveness of those leaders. The leaders who preferred listening were rated 11% more effective than those who preferred speaking. And the leaders who listened were rated higher than their speaking peers in every category from expertise and innovation to collaboration and communication.
In addition, the best leaders were also higher on the totem pole…so that demonstrates that either their listening (and then the perception of them as effective) helped them move up or they simply had more time to develop the skill of listening. Yes, listening is a skill, one that you can practice every day.
How can you become a better listener? The precursor to listening is asking questions. Open questions are essential to getting someone else to talk and are the best way to keep yourself in the listener’s seat. Here are my favorite open questions:
Tell me: This is one of my personal favorites. “Tell me” begs for more information, for the speaker to share and be open, and demonstrates interest. Instead of “what happened?” try “tell me what happened?” and you’re more likely to get a complex answer. People want the chance to share their POV so “tell me” is a great question to pose.
The 4 W’s: What, Where, When & Who. The 4 W’s are all about detail. These 4 words are all great to use when looking to understand the details about a situation or a decision. “What is one thing you could do to make this better?”, “where do you think we should focus our efforts?” “when do you think this can be finalized?” or “who is the team member you’d most like to include?” These questions allow your team member to expand and share the details of the situation at hand. This gives you more clarity while allowing your team member to become more focused on the details of the situations they face.
How: “How” is about process. “How” invites the speaker to share his thought process which helps you to understand how he approached the situation. “How did you come to that decision?” is an inviting way to ask for more information and gives the speaker a chance to analyze their actions so they can gain clarity on their own process. This then allows you to better understand what challenges they face and gives your team member more ownership over her tasks and decisions.
Can or Could: These two are about permission. By using “can you” or could you” before an open question you’re asking the permission of the person you are engaging with which gives a little bit of power to the her and demonstrates that she has a choice in answering. This is a good thing to add when you need to broach a sticky situation as it lets the speaker feel like she has control while demonstrating your consideration. “Could you tell me what you felt when that happened?” is very inviting vs. “why were you so angry when that happened? Which doesn’t allow for someone to open up and share.
You may be asking yourself: what about “why?” “Why” is troublesome and isn’t as open as you might think. “Why” puts people on the defensive. “Why did you do that?” assumes that the person did something and assigns blame. This is not as open as “tell me how you made that decision” which allows for the other person to share their thought process. I always advise folks to stay away from why and then note what happens when you do.
The secret to building your listening superpower is to start to ask more questions and see what happens. Most everyone I coach reports that they get great results: they feel more connected to their team members; they feel more confident overall in their team’s performance; and they discover that they don’t have to have all the answers. Questions help you develop your listening superpower which is invaluable in helping you become a more effective and confident leader.
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