Want to cut through the noise? Listen

not-listening-Tshirt“The big miss for most leaders is that they fail to understand that the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage – THIS REQUIRES LISTENING.” –Mike Myatt, author, Leadership Matters

Happy Labor Day! Hopefully, you’re relaxing and recharging today on our national holiday set aside for recognizing the contributions that American workers have made to our country. Just in case you’re checking your email or social media, I thought I’d give you some food for thought.

As leaders, we often think of communication in terms of getting our message heard in a sea of competing messages. We create communication plans that outline important messages. We compile lists of key stakeholder groups and determine the most effective modes of communication such as email, newsletters, video, presentations or speeches. However, as Mike Myatt points out the primary purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage.

Following that logic, one of the best ways to cut through the noise may be to listen. Seems counterintuitive, right? Well perhaps not.

Think of the best leaders you have encountered in your career.

Were they the ones who spoke most eloquently or persuasively, focusing primarily on getting their message heard? Were they the leaders who spoke most of the time during a meeting expecting others to listen?

Or were they the ones who actively listened to their employees and stakeholders? Were they the leaders who were genuinely interested in hearing others’ perspectives and ideas and demonstrated that they heard by asking good questions?

In my experience, I’ve found the best leaders I’ve known are those who actively listen and engage others. Early in my career, I was lucky to work with a leader who was very careful not to dominate meetings by speaking too much. I talked to her once about it and learned that she purposely sat back and let other people speak first. Being very aware of her positional power, she didn’t want to dampen the conversation by putting her perspective on the table first. She drew out the quiet people and she asked good questions. It probably helped that she was an anthropologist first before moving into academic leadership. She was greatly respected by the university community for her strong leadership. From her example, I learned that really great leaders listen more and talk less.

In our workplaces, people want to feel heard. They want to feel valued for their contributions. It may seem overly simplistic, but the most effective way to help people feel heard and valued is to listen. Employees and stakeholders will be more likely to listen to you, when you are actively listening to them. I think it’s a sound strategy for cutting through the noise. What do you think?

Do you have any practical advice for leaders who are practicing listening more and talking less?

Anita Rios



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