More on Listening


"...Listening is a multidimensional practice..."

Adam Bryant et al, 2021

Some elements of being a good listener

- being present (focusing on what is happening now rather than thinking of other things)

- favour context and suggestions (rather than treating conversations as transactional exchanges that accommodate constant interruption)

- open lines of communication (both inside and outside the organisation - enables early identification of danger and/or opportunities; develop many authentic feedback mechanisms)

Two key components

i) listening without distraction or judgement and focusing on comprehension, ie understanding

ii) creating active listening systems and processes that encourage identifying the bigger picture so that

"...Can you listen to it all and separate the signal from the noise..."

Adam Bryant et al, 2021

Despite most senior managers having access to more lines of communication than anybody else in the organisation, their information can be suspect and/or compromised, eg warning signs are downplayed, key facts are omitted, data is manipulated to give a positive spin, etc.. Executives are often trapped in an information bubble, like

- success theatre (staff frame results in a way that avoids tough conversation about problems and indeed suggest that everything is going well)

- scepticism hiding (senior management members make sure that no one can question or second-guess them.)

Listening skills are important for handling potential crises and for allowing good ideas to surface from anywhere. Don't let people's positions dictate how influential their ideas are.

Some useful steps to become a more effective listener

i) protect against blindspots (encourage staff to challenge management; need to develop the level of trust that encourages truth)

ii) de-emphasise hierarchy (don't confuse where people are in the hierarchy with the respect they deserve; more interested in the actual ideas than where they come from)

iii) give permission to share bad news (don't shoot the messenger of bad news; share problems)

iv) create an early warning system (the earlier you know about a problem, the easier it is to solve it)

v) encourage problem-solving, acknowledge progress (by asking people what they are proud to have achieved, can help them evaluate and solve current challenges; encourage people to get ownership of the problem, ie the causes rather than just the symptoms)

vi) listen to achieve understanding; without judgement or an agenda ("...when you have your own agenda while you're listening to someone, what you're doing is formulating your response rather than processing what the other person saying...")

Adam Bryant et al, 2021

NB WAIT = Why Am I Talking

vii) actively seeking input (encourage both formal and informal meetings that encourage people to speak up so you are able to identify signals about emerging problems and opportunities; employ effective lines of questioning to encourage staff to 'speak their minds'; encourage listening systems that allow people to speak out and be heard; treat your direct reports as partners, not as subordinates; senior management to take the role of counsellor and coach, not 'judge and jury')

viii) summarise meetings (take minutes that explain what was discussed, acknowledge inputs and develop an action plan; send a copy to all participants allowing them a chance to disagree or seek clarification)

ix) observe body language (observe words used, tone of voice, facial expressions, body movements, etc)

x) consider the meeting venue/facilities (make the gathering as relaxing and as informal as possible)

NB be careful of the ego-danger zone. This is where you become less engaging and intellectually lazy so that you stop listening.

In summary, listening

"...requires commitment and constant attention......even when they do listen, they need to remember that they cannot pick up on - good or bad - at face value. Instead they must listen so attentively and systematically that they gradually develop a richly nuanced sense of the nature of their organisation, its complex dynamics, and what it feels like to work there..."

Adam Bryant et al, 2021

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