Mindful Teamwork:  Listening as a Leader

Consider this scenario:  You are leading a team and one of your team members gives you a call.  Sitting at your desk sifting through emails, you didn’t expect the call.  What do you typically do when this happens?

  1. Continue looking at emails while listening to the team member
  2. Interrupt the team member with a great suggestion that you believe would be helpful
  3. Start sorting through items piled on your desk while listening to the team member
  4. Stop doing everything and fully focus your attention on the what your team member is sharing

It’s obvious what should be the correct response but how often does this really happen?  Be honest!

Our tendency is to multi-task.  We think we will get more done.  But what impact does it have on our effectiveness and leading a team?  The fact is:  you will have limited success as a leader until you master the art of listening.

What does it take to master the art of listening?  Here are some tips that can be put into practice that increases communication, collaboration, and connection with your team.

  • Ask and Wait:  You might need to ask a clarifying question.  Give your team member the space to process the question.  Be comfortable with silence and wait for their reply.
  • Focus on the Team Member:  It is impossible to focus on two things at one time.  You might think you can but if you are splitting your focus, you are only half tuned in to one or the other.  Are you able to really hear and digest everything?  How does it make you feel when someone is only giving you half of his or her attention?  Stop what you are doing and Focus on the team member.  
  • Let Them Finish:  Many of us are either thinking about how we are going to respond while the other person is speaking or we cut in and don’t let them finish – thinking that we have the right answer.  Butting in and moving your attention to what you are going to say is a sign that what you have to say is more important.  It isn’t.  Listen to what is being shared and get out of your own head.  Then when the team member finishes, take a moment to pause and digest what they just said before responding.
  • Recap:  When we are speaking with a team member, who may have a very different style than our own, we can often misinterpret the message.  This also happens with those they we know well and communicate with frequently.  Take a minute and recap starting with “What I heard you say is….”.  Taking the time to ask this question provides the opportunity to clarify communications and increase effectiveness.  You may be amazed at how often what you think you heard might be interpreted differently than what was intended by the speaker.  Clarify and get on the same page.

It’s easy to split out attention especially given the pace of our daily work environment.  We are bombarded with communications and distractions from all angles.  It’s easy to get sucked in trying to handle multiple things at one time.  

Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another.

You want to be a great leader?  Then work on your listening skills and give your people the attention they deserve.  Not only is it more efficient as the research suggests, it creates the opportunity to have a connected and authentic dialogue.