The Gift of Listening
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Photo by Nick Fewings
Very recently I had the opportunity to visit with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time. For two hours we sat together and this person talked…a lot. I had the chance to jump in and share a story or two but, for the most part, they carried the conversation. While I was happy to hear about what was going on with them and their family, I felt invisible. I could have easily kept my mouth shut for those two hours and I don’t think that person would even have noticed my silence.
I walked away from that encounter feeling like they didn’t care about me. I’ve done a lot since I last saw them and, not once, did they ask what I’ve been up to or how my family was doing. Quite honestly, it made me feel like I don’t really care if I ever see them again.
It reminded me of the importance of making others feel seen, heard and understood. This is especially important when it comes to leadership so here are a few tips:
Presence—have you ever tried to talk to someone who’s looking at their phone? They may nod and say “uh-huh” like they’re listening but it sure doesn’t feel like it. (If you have teenagers, this is very familiar). Now think about another conversation when there were no distractions and that other person looked you in the eye. Doesn’t that feel like they care about what you have to say? People want their boss to care about what they have to say.
Curiosity vs. presumption—When you’re listening to someone, you are often also formulating your response in your head before they’ve even finished talking—whether you have a suggestion or you’re defending your actions. Instead, just listen and then ask a question. Summarize what you think you heard and say it back to them.
Silence—As a coach, I’ve become well-practiced at sitting in the silence, giving space for someone to process information, formulate their thoughts and articulate them in a way others can understand. Sometimes, it’s even giving them the time to work up the courage to say what’s on their mind. Silence is like giving the gift of time and space to think. It’s a gift you can give your employees every day.
When you walk away from a conversation with your employees, how do you want them to feel?
You probably don’t want them to feel like I did, like you don’t truly care about them. Give them your full attention and listen to what they’re telling you. You’ll get more productivity and loyalty from an employee who feels valued, seen, heard and understood.