A listening culture is an environment where every team member feels respected and valued. It’s a culture where staff feel comfortable sharing their ideas and taking initiative. And it’s a culture that attracts and retains the best talent. As a leader, all that probably sounds pretty great huh? Read on for tips on creating a positive, listening culture in your business or organization.
It Starts at the Top
As with just about everything in any business, it starts with the leader. As a leader you need to be 100% committed to creating a caring, respectful, listening culture. You also need to be committed to sticking with it for the long term. Culture is never a “flavor of the month”. It’s tied closely to your brand and, good or bad, it’s what you’re known for. If you haven’t decided what you want your culture to be, it will evolve naturally, and oftentimes, it’s not pretty. So step one is to decide what kind of a culture you want to be responsible for creating.
Once you’ve made the decision, you need to walk the talk, or more appropriately, walk the listen. (Sorry, I had to do it.) This means working on your listening skills. It means caring more about what other people have to say than always needing to insert yourself. It also means practicing appreciative inquiry and reflections. Let’s explore each of those components.
Working on your Listening Skills
If you have never had formal training on active listening, it might be worth considering. At the very least, find a peer or mentor to intentionally practice your listening skills with. Here are two exercises that you can do with anyone.
With a partner, set a 5-minute timer and ask them to share with you about their favorite vacation ever. From there, you can only ask open-ended questions. These, as you probably know, are questions that cannot be answered with one or two words. They require thought and reflection. When you are done, ask your partner for feedback on the number of times you used closed questions or inserted your thoughts.
Again with a partner and a 5-minute timer, this time ask your partner to share something he/she is excited about. Then listen. For 5-minutes you can only insert encouragers or reflections. Have your partner give you feedback on how you did.
Neither of these exercises are what real conversations should sound like. These are simply exercises to practice the skills used in listening conversations.
Caring More about What Others Have to Say
Now, you might be thinking: But I’m the boss, I need to tell people what to do and how to do it! Well, not necessarily. As leader you need to share excessively about your vision for the company, your values, and your brand. You need to talk about these things so much that staff get sick of hearing. Additionally, you need to help your team understand how their tasks and decisions contribute to the success of the company.
Appreciative Inquiry and Reflections
When a staff person needs direction with a task or project, rather than starting right in with a monolog about all your thoughts on the topic, ask what they already know or how they think it should be handled. Searching to find other people’s strengths and assets is known as Appreciative Inquiry. Even if they have no clue how to begin on the task, this practice has two main benefits. First, you’re showing that you value the person. Second, you will understand where they are starting from. Maybe they have a lot more knowledge than you knew, and they just need help with one small piece. Asking a few questions before you dive into a topic will save you both a lot of time.
Reflections are another practice that yields organizational benefits. If done poorly, this feels awkward and forced. If practiced thoughtfully, it improves communication and relationships. Valuable reflections come from listening intently to both the words being said, and the meaning or feelings behind the word. If someone states: “This project is super challenging”, they could be very excited to be working on a stretch project, or they could be overwhelmed and calling for help. A reflection involves working to understand the meaning behind the statement. So you could state back: “Yes, this project seems to be stretching you.” From there the speaker will elaborate on how they are feeling about the stretch. Even if you are incorrect in your reflection, there is huge value. You are showing that you are trying to understand their situation, and you’ll have the opportunity to clarify or correct your beliefs.
Staff who feel valued. Respectful conversations. Reduce wasted time. Strong understanding of how your people (your most valuable asset) are doing. Sounds pretty great, huh? If you would like help in developing your listening skills or creating a listening culture, I would love to help! Email me at email@example.com. Happy listening!