By Suzanne Black, President, The Coaching Center, LLC
“You’re not listening!” Ever heard that complaint? Most of us have. And it is no wonder that many of us have heard the complaint – contrary to what most of us believe, listening is very hard work. And, it is essential to excellence in leadership.
Hailey’s leadership lesson #3 addresses the importance of listening: Always Practice Active Listening. Ask for Feedback.
When asked, most people will tell you that they think they are pretty good listeners. Statistics indicate otherwise. According to the International Listening Association, 85% of what we learn, we learn through listening, yet we remember only 20% of what we hear. 75% of the time that we are listening, we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful. Fewer than 2% of us have ever had any formal listening training.
When we examine what is involved in listening, it’s no wonder that many of us have challenges with effective listening. Listening is actually a four step process. In the first step, we hear – simply take in the sounds. In the second step, we sort – retaining the important sounds (what someone says) and letting go of the unnecessary sounds (background noise). Third, we add meaning to what we have heard. We apply what we know about the topic, the speaker, and even the setting to the words we hear. And finally, we must recall what was said. Effective communication only occurs when the sender and the receiver “hear” the same thing.
Distractions are prevalent in our culture and they can make listening even more difficult. Cell phones, I-pods, televisions, computers – all can distract from careful listening. Likewise, mental distractions such as thinking about something you must do later or thinking about something that has just happened, can function as distractions. To listen actively, you must rid yourself of the physical and mental “noise” that prevents you from being an effective listener.
Active listening and asking for feedback go hand in hand. Listening leads to learning. When you want to learn more about yourself from others, ask for feedback.
Requesting feedback can feel threatening because soliciting input about how we are doing can make us feel vulnerable. It is much easier to wander down the road of life comfortable in our own vision of ourselves than to hear what others think of us. But feedback is essential to growth. You must be open to both positive and negative feedback and avoid the tendency to get defensive when you listen. You may also be pleasantly surprised at the positive things you hear!
The following suggestions can be helpful when you solicit feedback. First, listen with an open mind. Second, breathe. Breathing will help you maintain an open mind. Third, take notes on what is being said. This will give you accurate information to reflect upon as you consider the feedback. Finally, take some time to understand the feedback. Ask questions for clarification; repeat back what you hear. You may conclude after considering the feedback that the comment is completely inaccurate, OR has a grain of truth, OR is “right on.” Whatever you conclude, you now have the data, and this information is powerful in developing yourself as leader.
The Chinese character for listening includes images of ears, eyes, AND the heart. Effective listening and seeking feedback will improve your understanding of others and of yourself. By doing so, you will become a more effective leader. You’ll be amazed at the things you can learn when you open your eyes, ears, and heart to others.