By Peter James, PhD, MBA, PCC.
When someone utters the word “communication” in the business environment, what usually comes to everyone’s mind is that of speaking. And as leaders, we find it necessary to talk as much as possible in order to ensure that our messages come across in the right way. But I sometimes wonder if we are missing the mark.
Yes, it is important that our dialogue is crafted in a way that motivates, empowers, and allows those around us to feel a sense of inclusion, clarity, and motivation. It is important that our messages assist to strengthen the business unit, division, and ultimately the organization. It is also crucial that our words are careful, meaningful, and impactful. Let’s face it, someone is always listening.
Communication, however, does not just start and stop with our dialogue. Research and experts alike will agree that between 70% and 93% of all communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Yet, we spend so little time on this aspect of the model.
We often don’t think about it, but listening comes in many forms and fashions. Just look at a few of them that we should definitely adopt:
Active Listening. Listening attentively to a speaker in order to understand what they are saying, respond and reflect on what is being said, and retain the information for later.
Critical Listening. Involves problem-solving, analysis, and decision-making.
Informational Listening. Listening simply to learn.
Empathetic Listening. Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes as they talk, and demonstrating that one is really thinking about the other’s perspective to understand what it must be like to be them.
Appreciative Listening. A relaxed form of listening that is more focused on simply receiving encouragement.
As leaders, we don’t always do a great job of listening, we often just hear others talking. For that matter, we hear what we want to hear. And our staff and employees don’t always feel comfortable fully expressing themselves at work. They mostly have not had leaders that are listening to what’s not being said.
Hearing is the act of perceiving sound and receiving sound waves or vibrations through your ear. Listening is the act of hearing a sound and understanding what you hear. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Hearing simply happens.
In order to set ourselves up to be better listeners, we should use our words to ask better questions. By implementing the “coach-approach” to leadership, these powerful questions will often lead to better solutions. And better solutions . . . well, you know.
As you reflect on how to apply this article, I ask that you reflect on your own listening skills. Can you slow down enough to really understand the words that are being expressed and those that are not? Are you able to reflect on the pitch and tone of the communicator? Does their body language mirror what is being said? And lastly, are you creating an environment that allows others to bring their full communicative selves to work?
Lastly, as human beings, we are not naturally good listeners. There is always room for us to become better in this category. And our digital and instantaneous lives do not foster the type of environment that promotes solid listening habits. Listening must be practiced. It must be intentional. And good listening habits in your organization or division must begin with you.
Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable – and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.
~ Peter Nulty
To learn more about communication, listening skills, and evolving your leadership skills, contact Peter for a consultation.