Most people cannot listen until they have been heard. As a consequence, wise leaders who want to affect thinking and behavior learn to first be a great listener to those they aim to impact.
Holding back from jumping-in when a key point comes to mind in the middle of a fast-paced conversation can be a challenge but it is also essential in order to avoid being written-off as one who does not listen or understand, especially if the leader is new to the organization.
The following steps help a leader stay in-tune and attuned and dramatically improve their odds of success:
- Pay attention. When someone talks, give undivided attention and do not interrupt. While s/he is talking you may think you know what s/he is going to say and what you want to say next rushes to mind. In that instant you experience an irrepressible urge to interrupt and jump-in. Following the urge causes many bright, successful senior executives to often unintentionally and repeatedly use the power of their position to hijack conversations. The pattern wears on those in the organization and soon the leader is written-off as one who never listens and who does not get, or care about, those s/he leads.
- Don’t jump-in. Set thoughts aside in your mind or make a note of what you plan to share when the time comes. Force yourself, instead, to concentrate on precisely what is being said. Do not evaluate what is being said and do not begin to formulate a response. Just listen word-for-word with the objective to repeat back exactly what you heard to be sure you got it right. To force yourself to listen, try to write-down what is being said exactly as you hear it in the moment. Strive to hear and understand each word as well as the overall point being made.
- Say what was said. When the speaker stops, ask for permission to repeat back what was heard. Follow with an opening phrase such as: “What I heard you say is:…” and then say back what you heard, word-for-word. When done, ask for confirmation that you heard correctly.