Most leaders think they listen well, but in our experience of working with hundreds of leaders and teams over the last 15-plus years, that theory hasn’t proven true. Have you ever caught yourself in a meeting saying:
- “I heard you and get your point but….”
- “That’s worth considering and…..”
- “I get it and…”
- “Never mind that, what we need to focus on is…”
When you say these things, you can bet that you’re not listening. Instead, you’re simply jumping over the other person’s point of view to make more space for your own.
You’re also inadvertently missing a one of the most valuable untapped resources of your influence: listening.
In our experience, most people don’t need to get their way, but each human being wants to be heard.
Because of this natural human drive, people often fight hard to be heard. They don’t pause and listen – really listen – to what someone else has to say. Instead, they focus on stating their case rather than getting clear about the points of view of others. Yet effective listening is the crucial for teams to generate creative and innovative ideas.
To listen effectively requires an openness to be influenced. When you pause and really listen, you let in the other person’s idea. Their perspective works on you, influences your feelings, and evolves your thinking. This sparks generative ideas, creativity, and innovation.
Promoting Versus Inquiring
If you think of each person on your team as having their own IQ, meaning smarts, emotional intelligence, organizational experience, etc., it makes sense that you absolutely want to access their IQs when solving problems and making decisions. If you think of the team’s IQ as a pool of those individual IQs, you want to make sure that pool is as large as possible when solving problems and making decisions. Why? Because your chances of success are so much better.
“When people are heard and considered they more easily support the decision of the team, even if it is not their initial idea.”
When you have the loud extroverts or the leader dominating the discussion and not listening, it limits the size of that team IQ. It’s as if the water gets splashed out of the pool as they dominate, and the other members go silent and opt out.
You’re letting those dominate players promote and advocate for their idea, which you’ve probably already heard once in the meeting, rather than increasing the pool of ideas by inquiring and listening to clearly understand other’s ideas. When this happens it limits the team’s IQ, which is their collective resources to make decisions.
A New Intention for Listening
We know it is a challenge to listen, especially when the person talking says something you disagree with or circles back to the same points over and over again. At this point, you probably stop listening, and your mind spins to come up with a strong counter argument to reinforce your position. It can feel like war.
But instead of building your next line of defense, imagine listening with your mind and heart open to being changed. We know, this feels threatening, right? You could lose. But what if it isn’t about winning or losing? What if it’s about getting to the best, most creative, innovative idea? Ah, a different purpose — a purpose that supersedes you or me.
Wow! If this were the starting point for listening, how different conversations would be!
When each person listens fully — with the intention of being influenced — people feel heard. When people feel heard, they loosen their tight grip on their opinions and allow ideas to merge, twist, and transform into something new. The bottom line: Teams get better when this happens.
Let us be clear: we are not talking about getting to consensus. We are talking about taking the time to hear and consider the different viewpoints around the table. As we’ve said, adults don’t always need to get their way, but they do need to feel heard and genuinely considered. When people are heard and considered, they more easily support the decision of the team, even if it is not their initial idea.
How to Become a Powerful Listener
Do you want to become a powerful listener? If so, here are three critical steps to improve your listening:
- Check your intention
- Catch the ball
- Demonstrate empathy
Check Your Intention: Are You Willing to Be Influenced?
When you listen with the willingness to be influenced, you show up differently. Your willingness is evidenced through the statements you make and the questions you ask. For instance, when you are curious and interested in another person’s idea and want to understand it clearly, you are more likely to slow them down with questions such as:
“Wait a minute. I’m not sure I understand what you’re proposing. Can you explain it again?”
“Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion?”
Improve your willingness to be influenced by checking your intention. Ask yourself:
- Am I defending my position right now?
- Am I worried about being right?
- What’s our mutual goal in this discussion?
- Am I willing to try on their point of view?
These questions make you aware of your intention and support you shifting your intention to create a path to the place where you are willing to be influenced.
Catch the Ball, Pause, and Toss It Back
Catching the ball and tossing it back means taking the time to reflect back what you hear the other person say. This does not mean simply repeating the words or data, though that is part of it.
It means paying close attention to the possible emotions and intent underlying what’s actually being said. Catch the words, as well as, the heart and soul of your teammates’ views, by taking two steps.
First, catch the ball (the person’s idea) and hold it for a moment. This helps ensure you really understand the other person’s idea or point of view before firing something back. The pause is important! We’ve sat in so many meetings where people think they are talking about the same thing, but from the outside it’s clear they’re misinterpreting each other and arguing completely different points. Pausing helps you digest the other person’s opinion.
Second, toss the ball back by reflecting what the person is saying so that he or she feels heard. When someone feels heard, they more easily relax in their position and are open to hear your opinion. This creates buy-in on a team.
Tossing the ball back could sound like:
- “So, do you mean [reflecting back your understanding of their position]?”
- “I get that you’re upset. It sounds like you’re annoyed because you don’t think I care about the project. Does that fit?”
- “I want to make sure I’m following you. You think we’re trying to solve a problem before we understand it. Is that right?”
When you do this, you validate what the person said. You show that what they think and feel is important enough for you to slow down and anchor it. They feel heard and important. You’ll likely be able to see and feel them relax. That is a key opening.
Demonstrate Empathy: “No Wonder”
You’ve checked your intention, you’ve caught the ball and tossed it back. Now, finish strong.
Take a walk in the other person’s shoes. Even if you don’t agree with her position, are you willing to understand how she put the pieces together? Can you appreciate how she is feeling? It’s not agreeing, but simply seeing it from her perspective. You can say:
- “Well, no wonder you’re so convinced in your point of view if you think we failed last time.”
- “I see how upset you are. No wonder if you think this reflects badly on your team.”
- “No wonder this is so important to you if that’s how you put the data together.”
When people believe you understand how they feel and why it is so important to them, they no longer feel they have to fight to be heard. The energy of the conversation shifts. Often that frees up the discussion to move forward into effective problem solving.
We are all busy, passionate, opinionated people. But remember, each of us, even if you’re the boss, wants others to consider our ideas worthwhile.
Improve your listening by checking your intention, catching the ball, pause and tossing it back. And, by all means, demonstrate empathy. We promise it will make a difference for the people you lead and work with. Plus, don’t you want more influence?