Two “Soft” Skills That Exponentially Uplevel Your Leadership

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Being a leader, are you looking to develop any of the following experiences between yourself and others in your organization?

  • trust
  • stronger relationships
  • buy-in
  • commitment

How about executive presence, that X-factor that has others stop and take notice? 

There are a couple of not-so-soft skills that will have those around you seeing you in a whole new light and admiring you as a leader.

These skills are: directing your full attention and listening deeply. It sounds really easy, and it can be once you’ve developed these skills and made them a habit. Unfortunately, most of us think we are better at these skills than we actually are. If you want the benefits, you need to take an honest look at how you’re doing. 

This episode covers why giving others your full attention and listening deeply is important, and ways to develop these skills.

To get the scoop, you have to listen

It’s difficult to really know what your team members are thinking, what’s troubling them, or how to give them support unless you take the time to listen to them. 

Listening goes well beyond being quiet and giving someone your ear. It is an active, rather than a passive, pursuit. You want listening to be a primary function for you considering the uncertainty in the workplace and the on-going changes that are always taking place. 

There needs to be a balance between the intensity and desire to perform, and giving compassionate attention to your team’s needs.  

Like driving, almost everyone believes that they listen effectively. As a result, very few people think they need to develop their listening skills. When in fact, listening effectively is something that very few of us do. It’s not because listening effectively is difficult. Listening requires practice and habit forming, but most of us have never developed the habits that would make us effective listeners. 

Consider a few statistics on listening: 

  • 85% of what we know we learned through listening
  • Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate
  • Less than 2% of all professionals have had formal education or learning to understand and improve listening skills and techniques

Research has found that by listening effectively, you will:

  • get more information from the people you lead
  • increase others’ trust in you
  • reduce conflict
  • better understand how to motivate others
  • inspire a higher level of commitment in the people you manage

Take an honest look at how you’re doing

By the time I began training as a coach I had already had a successful career in Mutual Fund Operations. I was promoted rapidly and yielded great results for my company. Additionally, through an anonymous survey, I had received high marks as a leader from my co-workers.

What really moved me from those survey results was that my team knew I cared about them, felt that I had their back, and took their concerns and suggestions seriously. 

Sitting in my coach training sessions, while I was a little nervous venturing into something new, I felt pretty confident that I was really good at listening and there wasn’t much more for me to learn.

I was wrong.

Learning about the three levels of listening was eye-opening for me. I’ll give a quick overview now of the three levels and if you want to dive a little more deeply into them, I covered them in a previous episode titled How to Supercharge Your Networking

The Three Levels of Listening 

Subjective Listening

The first, and most common level of listening is subjective listening. At this level of listening, you are listening to answer the question, what does this have to do with me?

Signs that you are listening at this level include that you are waiting for the other person to get to the point or you are waiting for the other person to pause so you can speak. 

This level is common so as long as you are not overtly being rude no one has an issue with this level but common listening, as a leader, is mediocre. And that is not something you are striving for.  

Objective Listening

The second level of listening is objective listening. It is less commonly found in conversations than subjective listening. If you are able to listen objectively you will likely be considered to be a really good listener.

As it implies, objective listening is taking the focus off of yourself and placing it on the person you are talking to. Further, objective listening is listening to understand. The questions you ask in response to what you are being told will be thoughtful and relevant to the other person.

Intuitive Listening

The third and highest level of listening you can give another person is intuitive listening. This level of listening is so uncommon that when you bring this listening to a conversation you will be regarded as a remarkable listener. Truly extraordinary.

Intuitive listening even has the ability to create a transformational experience. This is because you are not only listening to what is being said and listening to understand, you are listening for what is not being said, and listening to understand who the other person is and what’s important to them.

When you are listening intuitively you are taking in information such as tone of voice, volume, inflection, word choice, facial expressions, and body language. 

When you are listening this deeply you not only pick up on what they are saying, you are also picking up on what they are leaving out. Such a state of curiosity is created from this level of listening that the questions you ask will cause the other person to reflect and perhaps consider a perspective they had not seen before.

Tapping into your own intuition

I have also found, when I have been actively practicing intuitive listening, that I am in tune with my own intuition. That may be where this level of listening gets its name. 

When I bring this level of listening to a conversation, I often have the experience of thoughts and images coming into my head. Or questions come to me as if from left field. I have no idea where they came from. When I share my thoughts or ask the question, it makes the conversation an experience neither myself or the other person had anticipated.

This level of listening also creates immediate rapport and quickly builds trust. Such that, it is not uncommon for the person I’m speaking with to say things such as:

“I’ve never told anyone this before” or, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

This is the level of listening I am inviting you to bring to your conversations, at work or outside of work.

I don’t say this lightly. It will change your life and the lives of those you listen to.  

Your full attention creates a bubble of safety

True listening can be a very intense activity with a lot of interaction. When we are listening, we are supporting the other person verbally and non-verbally, lending them confidence and esteem. We are doing our best to create that particular positive environment, where all the issues are discussed openly, and the other person is willing to be open.

The best way to create such an environment is to give someone your full attention.

Your full attention is powerful and lends that power to the people, situations, and tasks that you give it to. When you listen to people with exclusive, undivided attention, you let them feel significant, valued and respected. You are building this invaluable atmosphere of trust and support with the person. You are building mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

Also, the best way to get someone’s full attention is to give them your full attention.

If you want your team to be forthcoming with you and overcome any intimidation because you are more senior than them, or overcome any concern that you will not welcome their input you have to go above and beyond to create a sense of safety. 

Your inattention will destroy that safety

As much as your full attention can give power to others, your inattention takes that power away – leaving others feeling insignificant, unappreciated and disrespected.

Behaviors that can prevent creating that positive environment for open discussion include: 

  • Interrupting others when they are speaking
  • Being judgmental and jumping to conclusions
  • Scribbling
  • Shuffling documents
  • Cleaning lenses
  • Fiddling with objects such as pens, paperclips, etc. 
  • Looking at your phone or a screen 
  • Taking a call or checking emails

Behaviors that help to create that positive environment for open discussion include: 

  • Walking around to engage your team in conversation
  • Tilting your head while listening
  • Asking relevant follow up questions
  • Nodding
  • Making sporadic eye contact
  • Orienting your body toward the other person
  • Expressing genuine concern

Workplaces are becoming increasingly becoming more diverse and multigenerational. Leaders who listen to their people are in a much better position to lead organizations into the future.

There is no “one-approach-fits-all”. To understand the varying needs of your team you have to gain their trust so they feel comfortable sharing their needs with you. 

Make listening and giving others your full attention a habit

Create space in your day.

Building on a recent episode, How to Show Your Team Your Appreciation …Especially if it Doesn’t Come Naturally to You, you want to manage your calendar and stop booking yourself out the entire day. Can someone on your team go to a meeting in your place? Do your meetings need to be an hour, or can 30 minutes suffice? Give yourself time for reflection and space throughout the day, so that when you are talking with someone, you can give them your full attention.

Give your attention to the person who is speaking to you.

Put down your phone. Close your laptop. See if you’re more energized about work and the people with whom you work. Stay in the moment and be respectful of others. 

Seek to understand first.

Actively listen, actively speak, and actively ask more questions. The next time a colleague or team member asks for advice, make sure you’re listening and understand the situation. Then, before answering, clarify what they really need — usually it’s just validation that their thinking is on the right track.

Be mindful.

Be tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around you at all times. Take note of what is being said and how people are saying it. Also, be mindful of how you are showing up. As the leader, everyone is watching your every move and action. If you appear disconnected, you are perceived as disinterested, distracted and bored. 

Recall information previously shared.

Try to remember key concepts, ideas or other critical points the speaker has shared with you in the past. This demonstrates you’re not only listening to what they’re saying currently, but you’re able to retain information and recall specific details.

What habit or skill can you develop to make you a better listener?

How can you set yourself up in a way that will allow you to give another your undivided attention?

I’ll end this topic with a quote from Dr. Laurie Buchanan, a holistic health practitioner and author of the book, The Business of Being.

“When we listen, we hear someone into existence.” 

As always, I hope this was of value to you, and here’s to your success!

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