Listen and They Will Talk

Posted 03.12.2010

Listening3 Yesterday, I had a wrap up session with an executive I’ve enjoyed coaching for the past seven months. He was one of those clients who was great to work with because he took his colleague feedback to heart and really dedicated himself to following through on developing a few key skills that have made him an even more effective leader. As we were talking, he asked me what I had been up to lately and I told him I’ve been interviewing a lot of global executives for the upcoming second edition of my book, The Next Level. My client asked me what I was learning and hearing in the interviews. I thought for a few moments and said the theme that is coming through loud and clear in the interviews is the importance of listening. It doesn’t matter what the nationality or industry is of the executives I’ve been interviewing; they have all said that listening is a key building block of leading successfully in a global environment. Their basic point is you have to constantly be in learning mode when you’re an executive and that you learn more by listening than talking. Your goal, many of them have told me, should be to listen so that those around you will talk.

As I went on with my day, I thought a lot about that conversation and the many clients I’ve worked with over the years who have focused on improving their listening skills. At this point, we’ve had about 500 clients who have been the subject of our Next Level Success Factor 360 survey. A number of the items in the survey deal with listening. The one that has turned out to be the canary in the coal mine that signals a client needs to focus on listening as a key component of their leadership presence is:

  • Contributes to creating an environment in which everyone is comfortable engaging in open and honest dialogue.

If a client has a low score on that item, then I usually see lower ranking scores on items related to their own interpersonal effectiveness with their team and other colleagues. I also usually see lower scores on the effectiveness of their team. Clearly, it’s something important for my clients to address when they have low scores on creating an environment where people engage in open and honest dialogue. The question is, what should they work on to create that kind of environment where people talk freely?
You guessed it. They usually need to focus on items related to their listening skills. There are three in particular that make a big difference in moving the needle on creating an open dialogue environment. The big three are:

  • Genuinely listens to others without dominating the conversation.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the impact of his/her comments on the morale of the organization and makes appropriate choices.
  • Seeks to understand others’ points of view and goals by asking open ended questions.

Those behaviors seem to be high leverage because they are granular enough to act on, relatively easy to track and measure and because they have a broad, positive ripple effect on a lot of other important outcomes. In short, they’re the behaviors that enable leaders to listen in a way that gets others to talk.

What’s your experience with listening and talking? What have you learned and changed along the way on this front as you’ve developed as a leader? What’s your best advice for anyone who’s working on getting better at one of these three key behaviors?