Listening Part IV: Opening Up

When was the last time you felt as if you were listened to? What was that like?

Many people find it difficult to answer the first question; however, those that can have no problem remembering what it felt like: I often hear them say “I felt valued” or “I felt like someone cared”.

Simple in theory, yet hard to do, listening is a powerful tool for leaders that makes people feel as if they matter. When people feel like they matter, they will give their best to you and your organization. This is such a profound truth that I’ve wondered why we don’t get listening training in school and at work (“listening skills” should be part of every leadership development program!). 

What causes a leader to close his ears?

In addition to the external distractions that pull us away from listening, the hierarchical and political nature of our organizations has had a hand in a leader’s reluctance to listen as they should. We tend to perpetuate the myth that our leaders have all the answers, so they must be smarter. They begin to believe this themselves. The truth is, that if they are giving all of the answers, they aren’t listening, and they’ve stopped valuing what others have to say.

The danger is that when we close our ears, we may also have ceased learning. When we believe we know it all, we have stopped valuing what others have to add to the dialog. When we open ourselves up what others say, we learn from them and they feel valued.

It takes effort

Most of us are not be accustomed to opening ourselves up to this deep level of listening; it requires great patience and practice. We must be willing to take the time to listen. We must suspend our judgments and observe tone, inflection, facial expression and body language. We must listen beyond what is spoken or visible for that which is unspoken.

Asking yourself the following questions can provide a powerful framework for “leaning in” to listen at your best:

  • What could I learn by listening?
  • What beliefs do I have about myself – in relation to others – that prevent me from really listening?
  • What judgments have I made about others? Are they valid?
  • What is it about listening that is important to me? To others? To my organization?

Practice. Try setting aside some time to listen to people who are important to you in your organization. I’d love to have you come back here and let me know what you’ve learned.

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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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