Every leader hears about the importance of listening.
That message (ironically) goes in one ear and out the other for many of us.
The reason isn’t because we don’t want to listen. It’s because we don’t know how to listen.
We’ve been taught how to communicate vision. How to make tough calls. How to grow an organization. But have you ever been taught how to listen?
I took for granted that I was a good listener because I’m generally empathetic and a nice person.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our habits (the how) of listening can absolutely sink our relationships with the people we lead.
It wasn’t until reading through some of the writing of Steve Shapiro on listening habits that I realized (gasp!) I’m a terrible listener.
Below is our re-interpretation of some of those insights from Steve’s book Listening For Success about practical listening habits that are killing your leadership.
If you are doing any of these things you are it is clear that you are not listening.
The ATM Habit
Automatically Telling your story in response to another person’s story. What you may not realize is that there was a whole other realm of information behind that story that was just cut off. But you and your big mouth entirely missed it.
Think of how it makes you feel when you’re sharing an important problem with someone and they immediately jump in and tell you their story. It makes you feel discounted, disrespected, uncared for, and frustrated.
If you don’t like it when someone does that to you then why do you do it to others?
Sure, maybe it’s fine at a party, bar, or social gathering where you’re swapping stories. But if it’s someone you’re coaching, leading, or mentoring they’re going to shut down communication and ultimately their trust.
Imagine during your conversations there is a spotlight above the other person’s head. When they are talking the spotlight is on them, when you start talking about yourself the spotlight gets turned to you. As a leader (especially in the church) your job is to keep the light shining on others.
FAR (Formulating A Response)
Formulating a response while the other person is still talking.
You can always tell when you are talking to someone and they are already thinking about what they are going to say next. This is a close cousin of the ATM habit since often you’re thinking about the next story you want to tell.
Don’t be afraid of not having something to say. I know that’s a terrifying concept as a leader. But trust me it’s a good thing. Some of the most refreshing conversations happen with people who don’t seem to be in a hurry.
Pauses in conversation are good because they show the person you’re leading that you actually are taking time to consider what they said.
If you’re deathly afraid of silence, then you can say something like “That’s a great thought, let me think about that more.”
The art of irritatingly finishing people’s sentences for them.
Sentencing is my personal kryptonite. There have been at least five times this year where I thought my wife might kill me for finishing her sentences.
People can talk at about 125 words per minute but we listen at 400-500 words per minute. So, yeah, there is a big gap. There is a lot of time for your mind to wander in conversation. That’s why it’s hard to focus on what the other person is saying.
Even if you do know what they are going to say next, don’t!
If you are a fast thinker and fast talker you will want to pull your nails out when talking with someone who is meticulous and guarded with their words. Resist the temptation to “help them” get their thoughts out. It can easily be perceived as condescending and arrogant. Not qualities people tend to admire in their church leaders.
If someone actually needed you to solve their problems, they’d come right out and ask for advice on how to fix it.
I don’t call my plumber to get coffee and talk for two hours. I don’t stop into my electricians office to just to “catch up.”
The point is, if something needs to get fixed you’ll know pretty quick.
If not, then your job isn’t to fix anything. It’s to listen.
They just need to vent, to get it off of their chest.
The moment you solve their problem is the moment they realize you weren’t really listening to them. We tend to think we are in the problem-solving business as leaders. Really, we are about strengthening and building the capacity of the people we lead.
This is why most coaching/consulting companies don’t work. They care more about impressing you than listening to you.
We need to realize the best way to help someone is not to solve their problem for them. When you give people advice they will generally argue with it, people will tend to argue with whatever data you give them.
On the other hand, people never argue with their own data. Weird how that works.
We must help them come up with their own solution by drawing the solution out from them not for them.
Don’t worry, be happy. It’s not just a catchy song from the 80’s.
It’s a bad habit that you may have picked up from the power of positivity or a desire to get through with a conversation.
This happens all the time in the church world under the guise of “just have faith” or “just pray about it.” It all has the same effect. It minimizes the person’s issue.
Me, Me, Me
Have you ever walked away from a conversation and realized the person never once asked you about yourself?
I was at a party recently and had two different entrepreneurs do this to me. The total lack of self-awareness was almost impressive. If it weren’t so irritating.
Turning the conversation back to “me, me, me” no matter what, is a sure fire way to put yourself on an island as a leader.
And not the type of island with fun umbrella drinks, cabanas, and jet-skis.
More like the type where your team leaves you behind to starve while they take the life raft home.
We all do this as leaders subconsciously when we try to overthink things.
We start trying to look at motives, history, or the “thing behind the thing.” Those can be helpful things to dive into in the right time and place.
Like with a licensed therapist or psychologist.
But most of the time when you do this as a leader, it only causes destruction.
Think about this.
Most of the time we as leaders don’t even stop and analyze our own intentions. And even if we did, there’s a high likelihood we’d be wrong about those intentions. Yet we have no problem consistently trying to point out the intentions of others. Instead we should be listening not to uncover some mysterious hidden truth but to be simply be present.
Listening well requires us to sacrifice our ego and let go of trying to control the outcomes in conversations.
If you are trying to “achieve a result” with a conversation, then it’s not really a conversation.
It’s an ultimatum.
True conversation is what great leaders should strive for. It is in our active, successful listening that we are able to draw solutions out from our people instead of drawing solutions out for them.