Listening, both active and empathetic listening are important tools for effective leadership.
Practicing and making listening a habit provides huge benefits, not limited to the following:
a. It leaves a lasting impression on the other person
b. By listening you make the other person feel respected
c. Listening builds a certain level of trust, and the other person opens up to someone who listens
d. You understand the other person well, only if you listen intently and actively
e. By listening well, you are able to ask pointed and relevant questions
f. Sometimes you really gain insightful information
g. If you listen intently, you can connect the dots better (just like deep reading)
In this post we will cover the first three benefits of listening, with two examples.
Let’s start with the story of Mr. Rao who was an Assistant Manager at one of the 8000+ branches of State Bank of India. Some very senior executives were attending a seminar in the region and one of the Managing directors of the bank (7 levels higher than Mr. Rao’s) happened to stop by at the branch. As Mr. Rao took the MD on a tour of the branch, the MD inquired about Mr. Rao’s health among other things. And he learnt that Mr. Rao had embarked on this interesting new diet and exercise regimen to bring down his weight and mentioned a target that he was aiming for.
About seven years later, Mr. Rao was promoted to Assistant General Manager at the Vizianagram Training Center, where my batch of officers was undergoing training. The Bank’s CEO had just visited the training center on a high-level inspection about three months ago. One of the first things the CEO asked Mr. Rao was the results of his diet! Turns out the MD was now CEO of the bank. As he related this story, Mr. Rao’s eyes lit up, his face glowed and his tremendous respect for the CEO just oozed out.
Clearly the CEO left a lasting impression on Mr. Rao and gained his respect. The CEO could have easily claimed no memory of the discussion years ago. The CEO had made a habit of listening and he gained the complete respect of Mr. Rao.
One of the biggest compliments I ever received was on a cricket field. I turned out for a Sunday social game against friendly opposition. In the second innings, our fielding started coming apart. We were missing easy balls that should be fielded, dropping catches and generally looked very listless. The captain of the day, pulled me aside and said, “Raj, I will get the team into a huddle. Can you please talk to them? If I talk they hear, but if you say something they will listen”.
Wow, I was stunned. Not only was this some feedback coming from someone I looked up to, but it also put hearing and listening in perspective. In a sense, the captain was indicating that since the players respected me they would listen.
Clearly I had done something that made the players respect me and consequently listen to me. They never expected the captain of the club’s league team to play alongside them in a social game. In a sense, I was “one amongst the team“.
The social game was an everyday, commonplace event. So listening and its benefits are not limited to the elite, senior executives. You can see its impact at every level.
It works both ways: listen and you gain respect; and you respect someone by listening intently.
Listening or active listening needs to be practiced.
As the other person is talking, if your mind is elsewhere, or you are busy framing your next thought looking for that logical pause to slip your statement in, you are not listening. You have simply positioned your body to “hear” the other person’s sounds and waiting to “tell them” what you want to express.
If you do this, you are not respecting the other person.
I am very guilty of this. Building deep listening skills into my value system is another “work in progress”.
In part two, I have provided a few more examples of listening and some techniques to practice this super skill.
Please use the comments below to share any stories on this intriguing topic for the benefit of our readers and my own learning.
Image: https://web.archive.org/web/20161018014323/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Secretary_Sebelius_Listening_to_Opening_Plenary_of_World_Health_Assembly_.jpg” target=”_blank”>United States Mission Geneva