We all know how important it is to be silent when you are listening. Truly listening. This can sometimes be very difficult for some to do; and it takes a fair amount of self-awareness and self control to be good at this consistently. However, this post assumes that one has the self control to be able to receive the communication in an empathic way. And that we are able to do it every time despite our emotional state. This level of emotional empathy and openly listening is the most effective way to develop a meaningful response in any conversation. As Stephen Covey asserts, many “listeners” are listening to develop a response. A verbal response. We miss so much of the subtle non-verbal cues when our mind is churning through thoughts that will soon become words. However, this post is more about what we do with the information that we just received when we have listened actively with an open heart and an open mind; being in tune with the perspectives of the other person. Like most things in a leader’s life, this is about ACTION! The ACTION we take to respond when we are listening!
Listening is a crucial piece to feedback. We ask for feedback all of the time. We crave it and we spend time and other resources on soliciting feedback. Wikipedia helps us understand what is meant when we are soliciting feedback from others. “Feedback is information about actions returned to the source of the actions.” It would make sense, then, that we must act to close this feedback “loop” and DO SOMETHING with the information.
In healthcare, quality and patient safety leaders often encourage practitioners to “Speak Up” when it comes to safety. Speaking up in leadership is an art form in and of itself, and in life, we often only get what we are looking for if we have the courage to speak up. The question and the challenge is do we truly LISTEN when someone has the courage to speak up? I repeat, in case you missed that: DO WE TRULY LISTEN? You may have heard what was said, you may have picked up on the emotional cues and you may have even been moved by the information. However, listening with true empathy, in my opinion, requires that there is some ACTION sparked by this new information.
Communication without action will lead to people that are less willing to share information. In essence, we are silencing those that have shared information that they believed to be of value. We are shutting the door to the most important stream of valuable information when we do not LISTEN and RESPOND with ACTION.
These steps will help us slow down and become more deliberate to receiving and sharing information as we look to improve processes, workflows, designs, ideas and actions:
STOP – devote your full attention when communicating with empathy
LISTEN – not just to the words, but get a sense of the cues and emotions that are unspoken
THINK – digest the information and clarify true understanding
ACT – use the information and take action; follow up with those that have provided the information
Follow up is just as critical (maybe even more so) if action is not possible or must be postponed or modified in some way. This at least closes the loop and demonstrates the respect that is owed to those who have the grit to voice their sentiment. If we are not listening, we are silencing those around us. Managers sometimes confuse this “silence” as harmony – that “all is going well”. This ‘culture of silence’ is a dynamic that is very difficult to notice; especially given the behaviors that prime the environment for this: closed minded, distracted, and imperious. It is a vicious cycle and the longer the silence lasts, the more courage is required for those to speak out. Being proactive in effort to be a better listener is critical.
Being aware of how important these steps are is the easier part; executing them is more of a challenge. This takes work and conscious effort. You may want to ask a colleague to help coach you and provide you with feedback [make sure you listen and act when they are coaching you.] If you have veered off the path of a great listener, getting this right will reap rewards that are measured in an open and honest and highly efficient environment conducive to continuous improvement.
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. Apply these same rules to your personal life as we pursue meaningful relationships; and contemplate how we can be a better listener to those who mean the most to us. Never stop LEARNING (and LISTENING)! Have a great day and do great things!