Develop a Culture of Listening

Ladies and Gentlemen, Listen Up!

How to develop a culture of listening

At a business breakfast meeting recently I was standing with a fresh, hot cup of coffee in hand and “schmoozing.” These gatherings are a great way to make new business connections yes, but they are also a way to learn a lot. Once the conversation gets rolling between two people others tend to stop by and join in, particularly if you pause to smile and look their way. Either they know you or they want to know you and the group widens.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” ― Ralph G. Nichols

As the group gets bigger lots of agendas are in place simultaneously. Sometimes as many as 4 or 5. Just like a conference room in a meeting. This is when eye contact becomes important and worth waiting for. In meetings if you actually look at someone while they are talking to you, you can hear and be heard. It sounds pretty basic right? Parents and teachers intuitively understand this. If they want a child to listen to them, they know they need to get the child to look at them. It is a “meets min” requirement to being understood. Without it there’s a huge chance of “talking into air.”

When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen. – Stephen Covey

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of talk about male/female communications and a concept called “manterrupting” (ref. Sheryl Sandberg). This is one way to look at the issue. To me it feels a bit negative and too gender specific.

I prefer to look at the goal:

Setting in place a culture of listening.

As a leader, placing an importance on creating effective communication behaviors in your organization has so many benefits. For starters, you role model listening behaviors that create better overall leadership behaviors. You can achieve a culture where respect for individuals, collaboration, and engagement thrive.

Let’s take a closer look at how to be both a role model and a participant in team conversations.

  • Look at someone while they are speaking to you.

    It demonstrates that you respect what they have to say. You are showing them they have your attention. On the other hand, if you are addressing a room full of people who aren’t looking at you, there is a strong chance they are not hearing you. Getting their undivided attention is a good first step.

  • Take a pause.

    Jumping in and interrupting others while they are speaking is rude, right? However, many organizations reward individuals for brainy ideas shouted out in the midst of a meeting – even if the ideas don’t belong to the person shouting them out. A leader can hold a hand up to ask for patience or say, “you will be next” vs. allowing the interruption to happen. And, if you are the one doing the interrupting, take a pause and wait until you have the floor. You will be heard – I guarantee it.

  • Put it in writing.

    Let’s say you didn’t get a chance to speak and you have a very valuable comment to add to the discussion. As soon as the meeting wraps up, send a note to the leader saying you were encouraged by the lively discussion and that you have one more thought to add. Why not even request a one on one meeting to discuss your thought? Now you have succeeded in demonstrating that you are a good listener, that you have something to contribute, and that you have a great attitude. How can you go wrong with that? And leaders can benefit from allowing time, within reason of course, for employees who want to share their ideas. It can help to build a culture of innovation as well as listening.

  • Be focused on the results you want vs. the emotions.

    Lastly, people interrupt. They just do. Sometimes in the “heat of the moment” people cannot contain their passion to express their ideas. (OK, guilty as charged!) Rather than focus on the interruption stay very focused on your mutual goals and what you need to achieve for your organization. Some things become very personal and in that case, you might even think about pausing. But overall, believe that most people are not intentionally rude to others and believe that you can lead more effective communications through your own behaviors. 

We’re all human. Sometimes we don’t listen or communicate well. Being determined to achieve a culture of listening will also set in place a practice of listening within your organization. And just like golf or playing the piano; if you practice a lot, you get better at it. Next time, let’s talk about how to achieve this behavior while leading conference calls. Stay tuned.