According to bestselling author, speaker and leadership guru Brian Tracy, as much as 60 percent of a leader’s time is spent listening. By "listening" I don’t mean just listen with your ears. In fact, I'm suggesting that you make an effort to hear more than their words and seek to know what’s going on behind the words. Why are they upset? Is their idea a good one that their struggling to articulate? It’s important to acknowledge their words AND consider their underlying motivation.
Tracy emphasizes four listening strategies to maximize conversations.
1. Listen attentively- Focus on the speaker!
2. Pause before replying- Resist the temptation to simply respond for the sake of responding. Make sure they are finished.
3. Question for clarification- Not only does this show that you care about what they are saying, it helps flesh out what they are really trying to convey.
4. Listen without interruptions- Let them say what they need to say and give periodic nods that you’re actually paying attention!
There’s an important caveat to note here. Sometimes, when a person is frustrated they may have an exceptional idea but not communicate it effectively. For the leader, this means that when someone angrily makes a suggestion that you don’t simply dismiss it out of hand because of the tone. You need to ask follow up questions to get to the root of the idea and to convey to the person an open dialog. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to tolerate insubordination. Generally, you’ll find that asking follow up questions will help diffuse the frustration and empower the individual to act.
I was at the center of an episode like this once when I frustratingly complained about my company's corn trading program in front of the man who not only started it but was also the president of the company. The statement was born out of total frustration as I wanted to grow the trading program in a different way than what we were currently doing. The statement didn’t go over well and I can’t blame him for being upset. However, my underlying logic and the strategies I had in mind were legitimate. Further discussion would have been productive. It’s important for leaders to recognize when a follower needs to talk something out.
Even when there is no anger or frustration there’s no doubt that everyone has felt that they’ve been simply dismissed at one time or another; and it’s safe to say that nobody has enjoyed the feeling that accompanies it. In fact, the most common reason for employees to leave an organization is not pay, but a perceived lack of appreciation and recognition. It’s a small thing but simply listening to people can mean the difference between retaining top talent and losing it.
The goal is to not simply listen, but to make your people the center of your attention. Pay attention to their words and actions. Take heed of morale and intervene if necessary to improve the environment. A leader who truly places his people first will receive better performance and a much more loyal following.