Something the world could use more of are good listeners—especially in the C-suite. Being a good listener is not in the job description for most managers. In fact, a 2013 study by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business found that few chief executive officers excelled at listening. Actually, a review of the business leaders’ performance evaluations showed listening was rarely even mentioned as an evaluation metric.
Yet, everyone—employees and managers—can benefit from learning to shut up and listen.
Leaders who listen are able to assess how they are leading. By listening to those who follow, they can determine if they are leading in the right direction. This also creates mutual trust and respect and with that comes commitment, motivation, and engagement.
So what does it mean to shut up and listen? Here are three tips.
I had an interesting conversation with a leader, once at Microsoft and now at LinkedIn, in which he shared with me an epiphany he had about shutting up and listening. When one of his employees was going through a tough personal situation, he merely heard her out. Later, she told him that he was the only one that truly understood what she was going through. The leader was surprised because he did not say or do anything; he just listened. He was present. Since then, he has experienced many positives from his being present and empathizing with employees, including a stronger bond with a harder working team.
It is important to note that being present goes beyond just being quiet. It means being aware of your body language, facial expressions, and demeanor. It is also a full-time job in which a good leader has a high emotional intelligence and, thus, the ability to know when to ask an employee their thoughts or if something is troubling them.
Ask, Don’t Tell
Sometimes being a good listener means being able to ask good questions. Not unlike how Socrates led his student Plato to truths, managers can help employees come to solutions by discussing issues and asking probing questions. The result is an employee who feels empowered to develop solutions themselves. And these solutions have the potential to be even better than what the manager would have come up with.
I like the GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) coaching method because it is simple and effective. To see an example, visit this video of Sir John Whitmore demonstrating the difference between coaching (or asking) and instruction. Spoiler here—the student who is coached is much more enthusiastic about playing golf than the student who was told what to do.
For more on coaching, visit my Global Intelligence for Managers blog post.
Flip the Table
Being a good listener also applies to meetings. Dare to take a different approach to your meetings and allow your staff to do the talking instead of you. You can still lead the meeting and ensure objectives are met, but give time slots to speak and share. Hosting guest speakers to discuss what they are working on or present something that is different for the team can transform meetings into learning opportunities. Many managers are finding this approach is good for their image as it allows them to be been seen as part of the team. Not to mention it is more relaxing because you aren’t the only one filling up the space. This type of meeting sets the stage for anyone to feel comfortable talking.
When you are a good listener, you hear more about what is going on with the team. You establish trust and credibility. Your image is improved because direct reports see you as accessible. And your people will be more engaged, take ownership and be more productive. Everyone wins.
Now, give those ears a workout.