Active Listening

January 3, 2020

Always approach your leader with solutions, not problems.

Most leaders live by this axiom-which is how they earned their positions as leaders. While this is not 100% possible, it is possible to strive for this. And if you are a person being led, your leaders will note your efforts and appreciate them. Let’s face it- no matter what position you hold, you are not always the decision maker, but you can make your leader’s job easier and increase your reputation for innovation, business acumen, dependability and team attitude simultaneously. You can bring solutions to your leader, even if you don’t have the authority to execute.

So how does active listening relate to strengthening your role in your company?

When problems arise, they are often called ‘heat cases.’ People get angry, heated, when things don’t go their way. But listen carefully- your heat case isn’t just about anger. Anger is never the first emotion. People are disappointed, embarrassed, confused, insulted, frustrated, or some combination of any of these, and their emotions are presented as anger.

So listen carefully – don’t start predicting what the person will say next and how you will respond. Active listening involves mirroring back what the person is saying- yup good ole’ Psyc 101 class. Repeat back what you hear your ‘heat case’ saying. This is critical in producing clear understanding for all involved parties, and will usually defuse the situation. If a person is embarrassed, the best solution will look vastly different than if the person is frustrated because he or she did not receive the promised product. Active listening to a client gives you the power to find the best solution, and present that to your leader if necessary.

If your ‘heat case’ is a co-worker or subordinate, the same rules apply in seeking a solution. The only difference is what the actual solution may be. Perhaps the person feels misunderstood or overlooked. A discount on their next order won’t help. Meeting with all the key players, as quickly as possible, validates the employee as a valued human as well as a worker. Active listening is something to be practiced intentionally, and modeled as well. As a leader, you may be required to facilitate or even mediate a solutions oriented discussion to resolve the problem(s). Not every member of the discussion may be well versed or skilled in active listening. So modeling the skill is critical. As a leader, you may even need to require active listening skills. Here’s an example of active listening:

Leader: “Fred, after listening to Bob speak, do you feel he is more angry or frustrated?”

Fred: “It seems Bob is actually more frustrated. He kept trying to share his ideas at the staff meeting and was cut off each time. People kept interrupting him, or speaking over him.”

Bob: “Yes. That’s it. I felt completely ignored. I was hired to bring innovation to my team. While I’m not perfect, part of collaborating is sharing ideas and determining which ideas, or even parts of ideas, can best suite our goals.”

Fred: “You’re right. You’ve proven in the past to share various perspectives that have saved us both time and money. We should have listened more carefully.”

Leader: “What are some ways to avoid this happening in the future?”

Fred: “Well, I would think simple good manners and professionalism would be enough.”

Bob: “I thought so too. Now look where we are! What about using something like “Robert’s Rules of Order,” consistently and sticking to the agenda?”

Fred: “That’s a good idea. I’ve never really liked how rigid those rules sometimes are. Being that formal makes me feel like an unapproachable leader. But I can see now how using them would actually keep us on topic, allow everyone to be heard, and use our time wisely.”

Leader: “Anything to add to that Bob?”

Bob: “No. I appreciate your time.”

Fred: “I appreciate your candidness Bob, and your time as well Felicia. Thank you for calling this meeting and guiding our conversation. This has been a most productive 15 minutes!!”

And they worked happily ever-after!

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