I recently presented a virtual training on coaching skills for managers. One of the activities focused on listening. For two minutes, the manager just had to listen to their partner and then repeat back what they heard. Sounds easy, right?
Well, there is one comment I hear every time I do this activity. Can you guess what it is?
“It was so nice to be able to talk and just be heard.”
“Just listening” is underrated
Leaders often tell me that they feel their value comes from solving problems. We want to help! We want to fix whatever issue people are bringing to us. If we are just listening we aren’t doing anything! We aren’t fixing the problem. We aren’t providing our unique insight to get our employees or colleagues to help them feel better or do better.
Now I’m not saying you should never provide advice or fix the problem. Sometimes that’s exactly what people are looking for from us. But that’s not the only way to provide value. And often it’s not the best way either.
At this time when we are dealing with conversations and situations that we’ve not dealt with before, a lot of people are offering their thoughts and ideas. But with all that is going on, “just listening” is a skill that gives leaders an edge right now when employees and colleagues are craving to be heard.
Listening is a gift
My colleague recently told me she was feeling overwhelmed at the amount of work on her plate. I immediately went into problem-solving mode. What can wait until next week? What can I take off your plate? What can I do to help? (And if I’m being honest, what can I do to make me feel better, so I’m not stressed about you being stressed. Can you relate?)
But my colleague didn’t want or need me to fix anything. She just wanted to talk about what she was going through. She wanted me to hear that she was running in high gear. She was grateful for the work and, in that moment, was feeling overwhelmed. She didn’t want anything off her plate! She wanted a witness to what she was experiencing.
So which is more valuable? Providing possible solutions and fixing the problem that you see in front of you? Or just listening?
At that moment, listening was a gift. Once I shifted out of problem solving mode, she walked away feeling validated in what she was taking on that day. As her manager, I was able to reflect back what I was hearing her say (so that she knew I heard her) and also make a deal that we would have another conversation if either one of us noticed that her work was skipping.
Listening isn’t always as easy as it seems
In those same coaching workshops, it’s very common for leaders to say, “It was hard to not jump in with my idea!” Yes, it is. I get it! It requires self-managing to just listen. Listening effectively requires practice.
Consider the following the next time you want to listen better to an employee or colleague.
- Focus on them. Choose to avoid all other distractions (with discipline, you can do this in person as well as by phone and video).
- Focus on understanding. Instead of jumping to figure out a solution, commit to understanding what they are saying. Repeat back what they’re telling you so they feel heard. (Listening to employees in one of the best ways to increase employee engagement.)
- Focus on what they need. You might want to ask them what they need. Even if they are looking for advice, you can listen and ask some thoughtful questions to help them come up with the best solution for themselves.
I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for advice, when I didn’t actually give any. I simply listened and reflected back what I was hearing them say they wanted or needed! I was only repeating back what they said. Yet they had an a-ha moment that provided clarity by hearing what they said mirrored back to them. That’s the gift of listening.
If you want to be a better listener, you have to practice. Next time you notice you are on fixer mode or dominating a conversation, Pause. Then think about how you can focus on listening instead. And then Act in the way that you choose.
You always have the choice to listen. And the more you practice, the easier it gets!
P.S. Do you want to increase employee engagement by improving your listening skills or incorporating other coaching skills? Contact us to learn more!