The business leader that actively listens to managers and employees may earn a leg up on the competition.
In terms of communication and morale, this sort of attentiveness can have a major impact on a business. According to a recent Harvard Business Review report, “Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously know when to stop talking and start listening. Few behaviors enhance conversational intimacy as much as attending to what people say. True attentiveness signals respect for people of all ranks and roles, a sense of curiosity, and even a degree of humility.”
Here are a few tips for leaders looking to become better listeners.
Demonstrate that you care.
The CEO that talks about a family atmosphere and the team concept will stumble if he or she doesn’t actively engage with employees.
As Glenn Llopis writes for Forbes, “When you care about your employees, they tend to work harder and aim to exceed your expectations. Employees want to be led by those who genuinely care about who they are and what they represent to the team and organization at-large. Don’t just view your employees as tools and resources for your own success — but as people and valuable assets who bring unique capabilities and aptitudes not necessarily limited to their job functions. … Employees want leaders who care about their general well-being and who can be depended upon during times of professional and personal hardships.”
Try a “listening session.”
Making the effort to listen to employee concerns and ideas means more than just nodding your head in brief elevator conversations. It can take a more structured approach, and scheduling time for such discussions may probe to be beneficial. A Harvard Business Review report cites Duke Energy, and its former CEO, James Rogers as an example. He engaged in “listening sessions,” three-hour meetings with managers to discuss any important issues.
“Through these discussions he gleaned information that might otherwise have escaped his attention,” the report states. “At one session, for example, he heard from a group of supervisors about a problem related to uneven compensation. ‘You know how long it would have taken for that to bubble up in the organization?’ he asks. Having heard directly from those affected by the problem, he could instruct his HR department to find a solution right away.”
Be aware of other cues.
Listening only goes so far if the boss is sighing, shifting weight and generally sending nonverbal messages of disinterest. Body language and appearances matter as well.
As Llopis writes for Forbes, “Great leaders are extremely mindful of their surroundings. They know how to actively listen beyond the obvious via both verbal and nonverbal communication. They acknowledge others via body language, facial expressions and nods. These types of leaders possess a tremendous degree of executive presence and are tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around them, at all times. Leaders that are mindful are not just hearing conversations; they are listening to them and engaging in the dialogue. They don’t fake it, they are taking note of what is being said and how people are saying it, and are making continuous eye contact and gestures. As the leader, everyone is watching your every move and action. If you appear disconnected, you are perceived as disinterested and not listening.”
Bring out ideas.
A willing back-and-forth conversation with employees can bring out the best in them, and also allow new ideas to surface. Former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz wrote about this for The Economist.
“It is a hoary cliché of management schools that a good boss knows how to listen,” writes Bartz. “But this shouldn’t be merely an exercise in empathy. Listening to your employees at every level is one of the best paths to new insights. Precisely because the Internet has made information so plentiful, your own team is likely to be full of ideas that should be tapped into. A leader who is sequestered in a corner office is missing out on the rich discussions bubbling a few floors below.”