If your natural instinct is to provide advice or an immediate solution to a problem, then you could unintentionally be doing more harm than good. The Harvard Business Review did a report on the impact of employee engagement on performance and discovered that effective communication was ranked as the second most important factor in achieving overall organizational success with 86% of those surveyed stating that it’s a high-priority.
Active listening is a major component to effective communication, the other being able to ask high-quality questions. It seems as though most of us understand the importance of listening but either lack the ability to intentionally implement it into the way we communicate or don’t have a clear understanding of what listening really is.
What I’ve discovered is that there are 3 different levels to active listening – Internal, Focused, and Global.
The focus is on ourselves, our own feelings, agenda, and assumptions. We would hear the problem that our teammate is facing and immediately offer advice or solve the problem for them. We do this because frankly, of our own ego and we are “busy” which is another way of saying that we don’t prioritize getting to the root of the problem they are facing and help guide them through it so that moving forward they will have the skills to work through it themselves or at the very least, a lot more quickly.
This is where we are 100% focused on our team members without distractions. We hear the problem, take the time to empathize with what it is they’re going through, look for clarification by coming from a place of curiosity, and begin to collaborate on helping guide them through their problem. The questions we ask allow them to work through the situation on their own with our guidance. Moving forward, they will gradually get better at working through these problems on their own but if they can’t, you will have their trust and your relationship will only continue to strengthen.
Our focus is on the experience our team member is having including our response, their feelings, and everything in-between. This is where our awareness is so on point that we’re able to hear what isn’t being said. In order to get to this level we must have our full attention on them – which they deserve anyway, see everything through their eyes, have a deep sense for what they are experiencing, and ensure everything about our physiology shows that you’re fully present with them.
Imagine yourself in a scenario where a Sales Consultant or Service Advisor comes to you wanting to take a day off but are behind target at month-end…
By only Internally Listening to their situation, it’s likely that we respond by saying something along the lines of “It’s just one day, you can take an extra day off next week if you need it. I’ve done it lots when I was in sales. Best to dig deep and find the energy to power through on hitting your goal this month.”
The problem is not only are we not listening here, we don’t even offer how to dig deep and find the energy.
With Focused Listening, we may respond such as “It seems as though this is a real dilemma for you. Would it be useful if we looked at some options together right now to get closure on this for you?”
From here we can build on the conversation and continue to ask high-quality questions that will help guide them through their problem.
When we take the Global Listening approach, we could respond with “It feels like you’re stuck. You don’t sound like the Shawn I know – you sound trapped and look defeated a bit. I can see that this is a real dilemma for you. What have you done in situations like this in the past and/or what would you like to do about this now? Which choice do you want to make and which choice are you trying to avoid making?”
With Focused and Global Listening, you are clearly there for them which provides a feeling of safety and mutual respect. With Internal Listening, they probably feel even more pressure which is likely to result in added stress and underperformance.
It’s easy to see how developing our skills to consistently be in levels 2 and 3 of active listening will increase engagement and productivity, while reducing turnover. What do you believe happens if we stay in level 1 with engagement, productivity, and turnover?
Having the ability to effectively communicate by listening at an intensely deep level is a major and critical skill to develop as a leader.
The next time you run into a situation where a colleague, friend, family member, or team member comes to us with a problem, how will you guide them?
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