Listening IS Action

Not to drop a name, but in a conversation with the wonderful Tom Peters on Twitter (@tom_peters), I wrote something about how the orientation to action in our organizations often clashes with a leader’s ability to really listen. His response helped me to realize that I’d said something that was actually worth writing about. So this post is written with gratitude to a giant in the leadership world, Mr. Tom Peters.

I sometimes imagine that if leaders changed nothing else about their behavior – except to listen well – a lot of workplace issues would go away (a sweeping statement, I know, but listening is really powerful – for the listener as well as the person who feels heard). People who feel listened to actually release endorphins (those “happy chemicals” that your body naturally produces). Imagine an entire happy workforce just because the leader really listens!

Yet this simple-to-understand-behavior is one of the hardest things to do. And one of the hardest places to do it is in our workplaces.

Why? Because listening isn’t considered something that gets results. Our workplaces (understandably) are geared toward taking action to achieve results.

So we’re constantly in motion, taking action because it’s what we (think) we get paid to do. Our days are filled with meetings, phone calls, email, fixing things. We talk TO and AT others and think we’ve accomplished something.

We feel guilty when that employee stops us in the hall and asks for some of our time. The guilt comes from the clash between standing still to listen with our need to feel like we’re moving to achieve the results we’re committed to. We say, “yes”, that we’re willing to listen for a few minutes. All the while, we’re thinking about what we need to get done (that isn’t really listening, by the way).

Put yourself in that employee’s shoes. They’ve asked for you to listen. You’ve committed to it, but what are they observing in your body language as you are anxious to get back into action? Are you facing them, maintaining eye contact? Can you focus on what they are saying?

The next time you’re asked for some of your time to listen…..STOP. Take a deep breath. Turn toward the person next to you. Turn off the chatter in your brain. And listen. Because listening is action.

Isn’t it possible to listen and get results?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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