Skip to content
Listening, and Keep Listening

So, it should come as no surprise that I’m not really ready to stop educating about listening skills and listening conversations. I’ve told you before that I’m super passionate about this subject, and why wouldn’t I be – it improves culture, improves relationships, and drives company growth! What’s not to love? Up to this point I’ve shared three key topics with you:

  • Why Listening is Better Than Talking

  • The Listening Leader

  • Creating a Listening Culture

While you may be thinking – what else could she possibly have to say about this topic! Sit tight, I have one more topic, a very valuable skill, that I want to share. Today I want to talk about those times when you have something you need to share, and how to do that while maintaining a listening conversation. As a boss or leader, there are times when you need to tell people what to do. It’s inevitable. This concept doesn’t align well with a listening culture, unless you are mindful of the way you go about sharing your information. Here are the components of maintaining a listening conversation:

Step #1 – create a listening culture

The very, very first step is to determine that creating a listening culture is important to you. This means caring about your employees, volunteers, and stakeholder. Really caring about them as people and valuing the ideas they have to contribute. This philosophy for leading a business pays huge dividends. If you’re not here, there’s no reason to read on. See blog #7 for more on this topic.

Step #2 – become a listening leader

Once you’re committed to caring about your team members as people, and really listening to what they have to say – the next step is to practice your listening skills. Being a good listener requires practice and commitment. You can practice on your own, or recruit the help of a professional. Without practice, you’re just pretending that you care to listen to your staff. You can learn more about becoming a Listening Leader in blog #6.

Step #3 – ensure the conversation remains focused on the team member

Once you’re really committed to creating a listening culture, it’s time to learn how to provide advice or directives – while maintaining a listening environment. This might sound counter-intuitive, but there are some specific techniques you can use to make sure you keep the conversation-energy focused on your team member, while providing the information they need to meet expectations.

Generally speaking, there are two reasons that a staff member will be looking for input from you. 1) They may just need some logistical information. For example, they might need to know who to talk to about something, or where to get information. These are “closed questions” and usually can be answered with 1 or 2 words, short sentences at the most. These don’t really impact a listening environment, as they are just providing the basic logistics needed to do a job. 2) The other, and more involved, type of information they may be seeking comes when they are stuck for ideas on what to do or how to proceed. If not handled properly, this can result in you taking over the conversation and shifting all of the energy to you and all the things you know. (And let’s be honest, the only person who enjoys this is you.)

Let’s say you have a staff person who is needing to complete a project. They know generally what to do, but need ideas on next steps or how to handle certain components. They come to you for direction. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Understand what they already know or what ideas they have. Ask them what they know about the topic or how they are thinking about proceeding. Also, give them space to explore what they know, initially they might not be able to articulate everything. Resist the urge to jump in, focus on understanding what they know about the topic. This ensures that you’re not ‘splaining things to them. Nobody likes that. This simple question gives you a great foundation for proceeding.

  • Once you are clear on what they know about the topic and the ideas they have, ask permission. This might feel awkward at first, but trust me, it’s very powerful. Good things to ask could be: “I have some ideas that might help, can I share them?” or “You have a lot of good thoughts on this, can I add to them?” When you ask permission and the person says yes, they are essentially inviting your input. It maintains the energy with that person (since they have the option to accept your input or not), rather than making it all about you.

  • You can disown the ideas by giving credit to someone else (whether they are 100% your ideas or not). To do this you could say something like: “Here’s an idea that I have seen other people find success with…” Since you’re not ‘owning’ this idea, it doesn’t steal the energy from other person. You are able to provide influence without shifting the conversation to your great ideas.

  • A variation on the last idea is to give them the opportunity to disregard your idea. For example: “I have a suggestion, but please feel free to take it or leave it.” This again gives the speaker the option to act on your idea or not.

  • In some cases it can be very effective to provide options. Give them a range of three choices. Provide an extreme option, a moderate option and a conservative option. By giving options, it allows the other person to maintain control of the conversation since they have the power to choose the one that suits them best.

Giving a range of ideas also provides you with insight into how they are thinking about the project and can narrow the conversation. If they respond well to the extreme option you know that they are open to taking some risks. If they lean towards the conservative option, it tells you they are feeling some hesitation about how to proceed. When you have insight into how they are thinking and feeling about the project, you can coach them accordingly.

Maintaining a “listening conversation” is a key component to establishing a positive culture. Your team members need to understand that their current knowledge is important to you as their leader. No one likes to be dictated to. Team members need to feel like they have some power in the decisions about how they do their work.

If you would like help in developing your listening skills or creating a listening culture, I would love to help! Email me at Happy listening! 

Related Posts