Listening is your most powerful collaboration and leadership tool

That means really listening!

Did you ever watch yourself and checked what percentage of the discussion you were the one talking and how much of it you were listening? Most of us will be surprised by what we find.

To add some more self-reflection, check your thoughts during the periods when you are listening. Are you really following, digesting, and trying to understand what you’re hearing, or are you spending more time formulating your own wise answer?

Are you communicating to learn or to show off? Are you listening to understand or to make a point?

Listening is understanding, and listening is leading. Unless you give a presentation to a large audience, meetings where you talk most of the time are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. They don’t drive engagement with the audience – be it one person or a team of 20.

You lead by listening, not by talking.

So how can you change your interactions towards a more collaborative and engaging setting? Here are a few ideas.

I. Make short statements

Force yourself to make short statements and watch for the reactions. Don’t try to fill quiet space – it’s ok to have a few seconds without someone talking.

Remember that it’s not about you! Leave room for others and leave room to truly understand their thoughts and contributions (if that’s not important, you didn’t need a meeting in the first place). If no one speaks up, call them out individually and on specific topics or questions.

Here’s something critical I learned about (crisis) communication back in my days in Corporate PR:

The more you talk, the more people will think you don’t have a strong point (or you try to deceive). If you have a strong point, a short statement will do just fine.

Plus, if you keep going on and on in your speech, circling the same topic, you will have a really good chance of losing your audience to some more exciting topics in their heads or on their screens.

II. Pause and ask questions

Force yourself to stop talking. Take pauses and breaks. Ask questions – lots of questions.

Make a (short) point and then get feedback. Critical feedback is even better. Tap into the knowledge and experience of the crowd – if you don’t seek and need that input, you shouldn’t have a meeting to begin with.

III. Take the input

Acknowledge the input you receive. Really take it, think about it, and acknowledge what you have heard. Don’t just brush over it and go on with what your thoughts, plans, and opinions were in the first place.

It’s incredibly frustrating for me when I am in a meeting, the group is asked for inputs, thoughtful ideas come up, and then the meeting lead moves on with an unspoken “actually, I already have a plan and don’t really care about what you guys said”.

On the flip side – if you don’t want to take input on a particular topic, be upfront about it. Don’t pretend to ask for it.

Trust that the wisdom of the crowd is more brilliant than yours. Leverage it to your advantage. Learn from the folks in your meeting!

IV. Take notes

Taking notes is a great tool to focus yourself on listening and really following what is being said.

How do you distill down the key ideas that were shared in your own words? This active processing of the shared content will force you to listen and be tuned in. It will prevent your mind from wandering to the next topic, developing your own smarty-pants response, or multi-tasking in your email.

V. Play back what you heard

Lastly, we need to be aware that all we hear is being heard and processed through our own (unconscious) filters.

What you hear might be very different from what I tried to communicate. The only way to ensure that you really heard and understood correctly is to play the statement back in your own words.

“Thank you for sharing this. Can I quickly play back what I heard to make sure I understood correctly?” or “Let me just quickly play this back to make sure I got it right?” do wonders towards active and collaborative communication.

Talk less, listen more!

Listening is leading. Active listening is finding collaborative solutions. Talk less, listen more! There are better ways to demonstrate smarts than by dominating airtime.




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Lessons from Amazon, a global pandemic, and other crazy times
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