I overheard an exchange between a mother and young child at a store the other day. The child was trying to communicate with the mom and the mom said, “The best way to help is be a good listener.” The child began to talk and the mom quickly and ferociously cut her off and said in a sharp, condescending voice, “Oh, you’re already not being a good listener! The best way to help is to be a good listener.” This went back and forth for several minutes with both the mom and the daughter becoming louder and more firm in their response. Finally, the daughter gave up. You know what? No one won.
That’s right. In her zeal to teach her child that the best way to help is by being a good listener, she completely missed the fact that she was NOT LISTENING. Now, I’m not the perfect mom all the time, just about 50% of the time. Seriously, I know that little ones can try your patience. But the point is that we spend so much time trying to teach someone else what is “right” that we don’t do it ourselves. It’s no different in the workplace.
How many times do we see managers telling an employee the same thing over and over only to have the employee do something completely different? How many employees have to come to HR to complain that their manager never listens to them? Then, HR has to try to give recommendations on how to bridge the gap in that conversation. I’d say it’s almost a daily routine. What we need to do is tell managers to start talking less and listen more.
If an employee is not doing something “right”, instead of telling him that the manager could say, “Hey, I see how you’re doing XYZ. Tell me how that is working for you.”- This allows the employee a chance to say why they do something a certain way, aka have their voice heard. Then, the manager can follow up with something like, “That seems like a good reason. Have you ever thought of doing XYZ to enhance that?” Now you’re in a dialogue and the employee is far more likely to embrace the suggestion.
By taking time to really listen to an employee you will achieve better results in terms of:
- Engagement- Employees who have their voice heard and then see those ideas validated will have higher levels of engagement with you and the department.
- Teaching and Coaching- When you listen to the employee, you have a greater chance that you can teach them why something is important to handle in a certain way. They will be more accepting of process changes, procedure changes, or other change happening in the department. This is also the way to give them opportunity to voice their concerns and you the opportunity to coach them through it.
- Learning- Even the highest level executives are continuous learners. By taking that extra time to listen to an employee, you will definitely learn something. It will spark new ideas, new ways to communicate, help you develop your own skill as a leader, and more.
So, the next time you are coaching your leaders, make sure they understand that by pausing to listen to the employees, they will reap the rewards. What other techniques do you use to convince leaders that listening is one of the most valuable tools they have? Share it in the comments.