We Have Two Ears and One Mouth For a Reason
It was great seeing my friend after about 4 years. As we went through the day he kept talking about the weather (hot!), traffic (too much, too slow), service in the restaurant at lunch (lousy), the economy, and people in general. Whew! At first, I thought I was just worn down by whining (and I was), but later when I was gratefully alone, I realized that I was equally annoyed and stressed by the constant talk.
I was regaled with tales of every relationship and job (he had several in the years I hadn't seen him). Yet I am not sure he knew about any changes in my life. He hadn't asked and ,frankly, had not given me a chance to inform him.
That made me think about leadership and the importance of listening as a leadership skill. Smart leaders listen. Leadership guru, John Maxwell, writing in How successful people think, says he has observed that the most successful leaders all read, spend time around other successful people, and practise the skill of listening.
Much can be said for listening whether it is absorbing the knowledge of experts or listening what your employees have to say. The typical performance evaluation should involve a few questions interspersed with lots of listening. That's the only way to learn what's working and what is not. If you want to know the barriers to success, ask- and then wait for an answer. More pointedly, you have to listen to learn how you can best help an employee do his/her job, or make them feel more engaged.
Active listening is an art; it is not zoning out and being distracted, but rather it invlves being fully present while you truly hear what someone else is saying.
- Listen without judgment
- Listen to understand. Look the person in the eye. Don't start formulating an answer or smart repartee before someone else finishes talking. Look for non- verbal cues as well. Steven Covey says in his tome The 7 habits of highly effective people that listening to understand is the key to communication.
- Verbalize back to the talker what you think they said. This clarifies the information for you, shows respect for the speaker and makes sure that is what the person meant to say.
Knowledge is power for a leader and no leader can get real information without listening. As old folks are wont to say ‘The good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason."