May 28, 2013 | Leadership, People

I concentrate better with music playing in the background.  I especially enjoy dropping in the name of a song or artist on Pandora Radio and letting it find music with interesting similarities.  Pandora happily plays whatever I’m in the mood for while I work away, until . . . I suddenly realize that the music stopped.  “That’s funny,” I think. “When did I stop listening?”

Okay.  I know that there is an upgraded version that doesn’t have this feature, but for purposes of illustration, stay with me.

Pandora’s Are you still listening? feature serves as a reminder that listening is a participative practice. Successful leaders use active listening to draw out the best from their team.  Active listening involves three kinds of behavior:

1. Showing respect.  The next time you meet with an employee to discuss an issue, fight the urge to “help” by providing immediate solutions. Instead, practice asking open-ended questions.  Unlike questions that give people limited options for response, open-ended questions encourage them to express their opinions and ideas. This practice engages employees into critical thinking mode.  It shows interest and respect for their input, and helps you build a team of problem solvers.

Examples of open-ended questions are:

      • How does that process work now?
      • How do you see this happening?
      • What’s the most important priority to you with this? Why?
      • What other issues are important to you?
      • What is it that you’d like to see accomplished?

2. Observe the Rule of 80/20.  Conversations with your team should not be like tennis matches where each of you hits the ball at a 50/50 ratio.  Instead, practice the 80/20 rule as it relates to listening. That means allowing your employees 80% of the talk time.  Use your 20% to pose open-ended questions rather than trying to have your own say. As you improve your ability to stay quiet, you’ll begin to use silence more effectively. Thoughtful moments of silence offer an invitation for your employees to dig deeper and clarify their own thinking.

3. Challenge assumptions.  Good listeners seek to understand—and challenge—the assumptions that lie below the surface of every conversation.  Many executives never open themselves to a shift in mindset and the possibilities that can be drawn from conversations with others. Solving business issues requires common action, not common thinking. Expect your employees to speak up when they disagree with your ideas.

Unlike Pandora, your employees don’t come with active listening features.  It’s your responsibility as a leader to demonstrate respect, allow employees time to clarify their thoughts, and open yourself up to facts that challenge your beliefs.  Yes, Pandora, I’m still listening.  Thanks for asking.

Question:  Think back to a great meeting where you left feeling that your ideas were respected. What happened to make you feel that way? What happened to your performance? Please leave your comments below.



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