I was listening the other night to the political pundits talk about the Ohio special election and wondered did they ever LISTEN to people in Ohio to get good information so they could understand what’s going on? The same question could be directed toward the workplace. How much listening is done to gather information to resolve issues and what impact does that have on the workplace?
Whether it’s being leaders on labor-management committees or employees and supervisors, listening is an important part of communication, if not “the” most important part. As one leader said in a Forbes article when leaders listen it can build strong relationships because employees feel like there’s a concern for them. Not only when leaders listen but also act on ideas from employees it can make significant changes in the workplace environment.
When CALMC works with groups we usually tell them to keep an open-mind and LISTEN to what others have to say. That’s very important for all leaders whether it’s management or labor. Sometimes leaders come into a situation with a preconceived idea as to what’s happening and how to fix it but that can limit them to really understanding and solving problems. By being open and listening valuable information is gained. It may not be the information expected but it can be actual information that can be important in resolving issues. It can also encourage new and better ideas to resolve problems.
What is necessary also is leaders must do more than hear what someone has to say. There’s a real difference between listening and hearing. Listening means to give full attention, concentrate on what another person has to say. Hearing can just be noise, or, as the saying goes, “in one ear and out the other.” People can easily pick up on which one is being done so if building positive relationships is the goal, than LISTENING needs to be done.
Relationship building occurs with listening because people feel like they’re truly being listened to. It builds self-esteem. It makes people feel good and they feel a stronger sense of importance to being part of the organization. They also work harder on the projects and issues they face. This can be a great advantage for any organization including unions. It can help workplaces be more competitive, provide more flexibility to adapt to specific circumstances or just provide better overall customer service whether its outside customers or internal members. In other words, a lot can be derived when we take the time to listen to others and build those relationships through listening.
As leaders listen more, it can also help them use a more facilitative style of leadership which is good as far as making a positive work environment. When CALMC facilitates groups, we listen to the discussion and guide and direct the group to stay on course and resolve their issues. It’s the same thing for leaders. They listen to others, ask appropriate questions to provoke thought, provide support when needed and guide as necessary. Using this style helps employees or members learn and grow as they resolve their own issues. It also shows the leader trusts them to accomplish their tasks which can also aid in providing positive results for employees and members as well as the organization.
The emphasis on listening is important, too, with performance review systems. While a leader may provide information on performance, it’s also important to listen to the comments or concerns from those being reviewed. It’s also important to make sure the right venue is used so listening isn’t interrupted.
Not too long ago we blogged about Amazon’s new performance review method. They used video conferencing but unfortunately not everybody could hear the same thing as the audio broke up. Imagine if you’re the person being reviewed and can’t hear everything. It kind of defeats the purpose of the review and also means important information is lost. It doesn’t allow the person being reviewed a fair evaluation and it doesn’t emphasize importance. It also doesn’t allow that person to listen to what’s being said so they can have input or correct behaviors.
On the flip side, listening can be hard. It requires patience with no interruptions. In other words, people need to be respected as they speak and they deserve to be listened to. Listening with empathy is also necessary. There are listening techniques that can help with those specific listening characteristics. For example, repeating back to someone what’s been said helps to show someone has listened to them. That in itself may be amazing to the person and make them feel good. It can also show patience and understanding because there was no interruption. It conveys the importance of what was said and that encourages positive behavior from people. Another technique that can help with empathetic listening is reflecting back to the person what they must have felt – anger, excitement, humor. It again shows the person they were listened to but it also shows understanding or empathy.
Lastly, listening can help leaders to take risks. Mistakes do happen but it also can be another great opportunity to use listening skills! This time a leader can listen to what went wrong. Maybe, too, it allows people to vent frustrations. It also can help if clarifying or appropriate questions are asked to convey the importance of understanding the situation. This can also be an excellent coaching experience that can help with learning and growth on what should have been done differently. It all requires leaders to listen but the outcome can be so much better for employees or members and make the workplace stronger. Listening to others is what great leaders do.