Thursday, 5 November 2015

Listening Loudly

Leadership can all too easily be viewed in terms of ‘tell’. My focus this month with leaders has been around listening. Basically, we suck at it!

D.A. Benton’s book ‘When Lions Don’t Need To Roar’ suggests that leaders hear less than 30% of what is said. Let’s just stop and think about that for a moment. We hear less than one in every three words spoken. How can we be surprised when, as a muscle group, this skill set has been under assault like never before? We are always plugged in, online, connected, super available, super responsive, always on, always busy, always doing stuff, oh and by the way – juggling all of the eye-watering information with which our senses are being assaulted. And yet, we are also the most disengaged workforce at the same time. No-one’s listening and no-one cares! Well, before we become too gloomy, the best leaders with the most engaging presence listen louder. What do I mean by that? Quite simply literature categorizes how we listen in a wide variety of different ways. It can be described as combative, attentive and reflective or deep and light listening or fake and real etc. etc. You get the idea.

I talk about four levels with my clients:
  1. Cosmetic listening means that we're not at all – we're in our own world, thinking about something else, someone else and some other reason to keep on breathing…….(rather than listening to you).
  2. Conversational listening means that we're waiting to get into the conversation (if only you’d stop talking). When we can wait no longer, we just start talking over you.
  3. Content level listening means that we’re starting to hear both content and context of what’s being said. Oh good – we're actually listening.
  4. Exquisite level listening means that we're hearing not just what you said, but also what you didn’t say – in other words, what you really mean.
In terms of best practice listening, much like many things in leadership, the theory is not intellectually challenging, it’s the practical application of it that is the tough part. So, my invitation to you reading this is to pin back your ears, wind down the distractions and really listen.