Listen, you might learn something….

Author: Martin Ewart

There is a skill that may seem simple on the surface, but it’s truly a game changer if you get it right. I’m talking about listening. A skill that is much more difficult, and important, for effective leadership than most imagine.

How many times have you been pouring your heart out to someone, and you could tell they were only half listening. It’s so frustrating. Now imagine, being the leader who is most often preoccupied, not fully engaged when their team wants to explore their thoughts or concerns. Not a great impact, is it?

I recognise it, because it remains a constant battle for me and a development area. I find it easier to observe in others than myself, but I know it’s there for me too. I don’t do it deliberately. I get interested, excited, trying to help. As a result, I can interrupt or take too much of the conversation time. It’s my least effective self.

I witnessed it recently in a client meeting. One of the PM’s, who is rightly very well thought of. She gets things organised and done. We all want some of that in our team. I noticed in the session that she had a habit of interrupting her team when they were presenting ideas during this session. She was trying to help them, and she was adding to their insights with supporting contributions. As a result, she was unintentionally shutting down their voice. I could sense the team stepping back and giving her the floor. We chatted about it after. She knew she was doing it, found it hard to stop herself. I’ve been there many times myself. This lack of active listening was hampering her team’s growth, and also making the project seem even more reliant on her than she intended it to be.

Why is listening so difficult? It’s not often deliberate. We are in this fast-paced world, in a rush to share points and opinions then move on to the next activity. We get so caught up in being heard, or being right, that we forget the power of truly listening. Listening well does require patience. The process of thinking and learning that your team goes through can help them grow. Setting aside our ego and trying to be fully present in each conversation is a mastery that too few develop. I’m still on the journey today. One of my previous bosses was brilliant at it. No matter how busy she was, she made every meeting or conversation seem like it was the most important one she was having that day. Her consistency stood out from the crowd. It role modelled a level of listening and exploring, that set new standards across the organisation.

Getting back to the PM. After the session, we explored what she could do differently and what value would come from it. She wanted to unlock the confidence in the team, and she wanted to build deeper relationships with them. We talked about how listening could help that. My biggest learning, I shared, is that it’s not just about hearing words, but it’s about understanding the emotions and intentions behind these words. I love music, when I listen it’s not about catching just the sounds, it’s about getting impacted by the emotions behind the music and lyrics.

Listening is not easy. It’s still a challenge for me and many leaders alike. Yet, the easiest way to show that your colleagues and clients voice matters is by truly actively listening and understanding what they are saying.

Let’s put our voice aside and try harder to tune in. We will all be the better for it.