As leaders and managers, we are all geared to be problem solvers and solution finders. But what if your employee does not want a solution or a ‘fix’…but just someone who can listen? Here’s a few reasons to stop talking and start listening.
Gone are the days of long, relaxed conversations and our opportunity to genuinely connect with people. These days we expect quick, concise messaging with little dialogue or personal/emotional touch—think texting or Twitter. In reality, I think we all just want to be heard, to know that we have value, and that what we have to say matters.
As managers, we listen to reply. We live in a constant state of problem solving, advice giving, and motivational speaking. Amidst all this rhetoric, is it possible our employees just want to be heard? It is also possible that in our haste, our reply is neither helpful nor inspiring?
To be a better leader, you have to recognize when to stop talking and start listening. It’s easier said than done, but here’s how you can lead by listening:
1. Be mentally in a space where you can listen: Don’t answer emails, scroll through Facebook, or edit a spreadsheet. Focus on the task at hand – just listen. If you can’t, be honest. Ask your employee if it is 411 or 911. If it’s immediate and must happen now, ask for a few minutes to shut down your tasks. Set a time frame: “Will ten minutes be enough?” If not, suggest that you start the conversation today, and pick it up when you both have more time. It can be empowering to your team to say, “I trust you. See if you can come back with possible solutions. You may not need me.”
2. Do not rebut: This is not a debate. You may not need to ‘fix’ anything. Just listen. Listening with empathy and no agenda allows an employee to let their guard down. Maybe they share something they would not normally that can help you grow. Maybe it unlocks something that allows you to be a better mentor and coach. If nothing else, you are listening.
3. Communicate that you are here to help and then follow through. If you say “I hear you BUT…,” know that all they hear is that you didn’t hear them and you are now negating everything they just shared with you. Instead, think of the last time you listened to a friend in need. How did you approach them? Did you offer solutions before they asked? Did you just offer your support? Because most leaders are problem solvers, we have a tendency to listen to solve. When we do that we solve problems that aren’t actually issues. We point out deficiencies that our employees didn’t see until they came to us for ‘help’.
The real value of listening as leaders is that we are given a rare opportunity to understand. Understand the person, the obstacles, and the opportunity. I feel better connected, more aware and generally positive about my team when I close my inbox, put my phone away, and travel back to the time of ‘front porch conversation’. Just listening.