We operate in a world that often expects immediate results. Our brains have been trained — and we may often be recognized — for thinking and responding quickly, jumping into the moment, offering our opinions. No doubt there is a time and place for this approach, it can be highly stimulating when in the right setting. However, if we begin to operate this way in all settings our energies are often inwardly directed to create a response, rather than tuned to listen to what others are saying. After hearing the initial problem, our attention can be so consumed with creating a solution that we fail to hear the rest of the description, missing important context. Additionally, we may miss the opportunity to ask probing questions that could help lead us to a resolution or expose someone else’s great thoughts.
"The paradox of listening is that by relinquishing power — the temporary power of speaking, asserting, knowing — we become more powerful." -Amy Cuddy
The irony here is that to listen well, we have to be willing to pause our problem-solving skills, which allows us the space and attention to gather relevant information. This is especially important for leaders who can inadvertently stop the flow of critical information simply by weighing in on a topic. Their response — intended or not — can signal the direction the organization is expected to take, stifling further discussion and potentially pigeon-holing the options under consideration. The paradox lies in the fact that giving ourselves space to listen, probing to ensure we have heard all context and potential options, we will be far better prepared to find the best solution.
"Credibility is every leader’s greatest capital, and your ability to listen and respond in a way that shows thoughtful attention builds that credibility." -Stephynie Malik
Finally, people inherently recognize when leaders are active listeners and create space for contributions from the entire team. True active listening strengthens trust and opens more channels for information and ideas to flow upward, supporting business growth by further adding to the inventory of voices being heard and increasing the odds of learning about great ideas.
Breadcrumbs to Explore
2. This 1-page paper provides a summary of Carl Rogers' approach of reflexively listening, where the listener explicitly states meanings that "were only implied" back to the speaker. While Carl Roger's wrote about the field of psychology, this approach has merits in any domain.