“A wise old owl lived in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?” – unknown author
Author Bernard Ferrari writes; “Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation.” He believes that one of the cornerstones of good listening is that in order to get what you need to know from your conversations and make good decisions, you must be willing to challenge long-held and cherished assumptions. Just because something has always been done in a certain way in the past doesn’t mean there isn’t an equally good or better way to do it.” (1)
Listen before you Leap
I think of Ernesto Sirolli’s experience in Africa helping the local Zambians to Plant and grow vegetables. He relates how early in his endeavor they were making excellent progress. Following some months of toil, the Zambians garden had an abundance of vegetation. Things were going great until one evening a large group of Hippos emerged from a nearby river and devoured the entire crop.
When Sirolli recounted this to the Zambians, they told him the Hippos were the reason they lacked agriculture in their area. When Sirolli asked why they never said anything about the Hippos before, they replied: “You never asked.”
Sirolli’s experience vividly illustrates the point of learning from the experience of others. Asking the right questions provides us with the right answers. If a leader doesn’t learn to ask questions how can he or she possibly know what they need to do?
Good leaders are good listeners who know how to ask good questions. It’s not possible to be a good leader without listening to your team, employees, customers or clients. How else can you know how you’re doing?
“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth!” – Chris Tucker (from Rush Hour 4)
Hearing and listening aren’t the same
You can hear what the other person is saying, and still not understand them. Listening requires empathy, which enables you to understand and share the feelings of the person who’s speaking to you. Anyone can communicate by speaking, it takes listening to connect with people. Sirolli communicated his vision to the Zambians, he failed to connect with them in their world.
Listen to Learn
Listening connects you with the experiences, motives, and feelings of the other person, this validates them and informs you, it’s a win/win when working together.
Listen to Lead
Listening connects the leader to the team and the team to the vision. People will trust a leader who can listen and learn from them. Learning where people are coming from can explain why they do what they, which helps leaders ask the right questions, so they can know what they need to do.
Leadership expert John C. Maxwell suggests that leaders utilize a listening audit to help them connect with their people.
The Listening Audit
The first step is to take an honest look at your current approach to communication. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
1. Am I open to other people’s ideas?
2. Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
3. Am I actively seeking feedback and input in order to move the team forward?
4. Do I act defensively when criticized, or do I listen openly for the truth?
5. Do I ask questions in every conversation?
At the end of each day, reflect on the day’s interactions—every meeting, conference call, phone conversation and so on—and calculate the percentage of the time that you spent listening as opposed to the time you spent speaking. How much of the day were you actively taking in information? At the end of the week, tally up your percentages and get an average. Set a goal to increase your listening percentage in the upcoming week. Be sure to track your progress.
(1) Bernard Ferrari quoted from “The Art and Value of Good Listening” Psychology Today by Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. https://goo.gl/pAXkFd