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Language of Listening

The Language of Listening

When employees say they want their voices to be heard, they are really saying they want leaders who will truly listen with mindfulness and curiosity.    As employees seek more attention, feedback and support, leaders must become more aware of individual needs s a means to more effectively inspire professional development and overall performance.   Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy, transparent relationships that breed loyalty.  You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart by the way they listen to understand and learn.

It's true that it’s difficult to really know what our employees are thinking about, what’s troubling them or how to help them get out of a performance slump –unless we take the time to ask questions and consider the responses.  This means much more than merely being quiet and giving someone your full attention.   It requires full awareness of body language, facial expressions, mood, and natural behavioral tendencies.  Listening should be a full-time job when you consider the uncertainties in the workplace and the constant changes we’re witnessing.What better way to practice these skills than with a herd of horses who don’t use verbal language? When working with horses, we have some very compelling reasons for listening:  They’re big, they’re strong, and they have infinite wisdom.   We can (and do) learn more about ourselves by sharing space with them than we ever could in a meeting room.  It’s not about learning to read a horse’s intent or body language. It’s about learning to be AWARE of all sorts of non-verbal cues—horse and human.

Time and time again when I ask program participants to conduct an exercise without speaking to one another, the results are phenomenally better. Why? Because they have no choice but to pay closer attention to one another and read both the conscious and unconscious signals …

Listening is a leadership responsibility that you’ll not see in a job description.   But any horse enthusiast will tell you in minute detail how they “know” what their horses are experiencing.   Those who listen intently are in a much better position to gain willing and eager followers.  The “one-approach-fits-all” way of thinking has finally been replaced by one characterized by keen listening and a genuine curiosity to understand. 

Although there are MANY effective forms of listening, here are 6 to get started:  

1.     Show You Care.   We all (horse and human) want to be led by someone who genuinely cares about who we are, and who expresses appreciation for the value we bring.   When treated as the individuals we are, when we’re celebrated for our un

2.     Become Engaged…  By sharing opinions, asking questions and encouraging others to elaborate and expand upon their views, we gain trust. By actively engaging, holding ourselves accountable and following up with people, they soon understand that we’re listening, paying attention and attempting to understand what matters most to them.

3.     Be Empathetic.  Empathy is a powerful display of listening.  The best leaders know how to empathize and make themselves approachable to those who need attention. Both President Clinton and Reagan were masters of showing empathy towards others.  By expressing our concerns when others are feeling frustrated leads to increased openness and sharing. Don’t be afraid to express sentiment to others or feel that it will weaken your leadership or authority.  Great leaders know how to balance the head and the heart…

 4.     Suspend Judgment.  Leaders who judge are not listening.  Too many times we make harsh criticisms about those with a different style or approach.  Instead of judging, we could be learning from them.

When we judge, we expose our immaturity and inability to embrace differences. We must not grow complacent but rather embrace new ideas and ideals.  That’s the best way to ensure ongoing learning and the ability to adapt to change. 

5.     Be Expansively Mindful.  Great leaders are extremely mindful of their surroundings.  They know how to actively listen.  They acknowledge others with their body language, facial expressions and behaviors.   These types of leaders possess a tremendous degree of executive presence and are tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around them, at all times.  When we are mindful, we don’t simply hear conversations; we listen and engage in the dialogue.  We don’t fake it, we take note of what is being said and how people are saying it.Everyone watches the leader’s every move.   If you appear disconnected, you are perceived as disinterested and not listening.   So NEVER stop being expansively mindful.

6.     Don’t Interrupt.  How many times has your train of thought been rudely interrupted?   It’s fair to say this is quite common.  Compassionate leaders listen and don’t interrupt the flow of dialogue.  They embrace two-way communication and are aware that with every interruption comes disengagement.  They earn respect from peers by being a patient listener.  Stay focused on what people are saying.  Stay in the moment and be respectful.   Here are some widely published statistics that will drive home the importance of effective listening.

•          85% of what we know we have learned through listenin 

•          Humans generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate

•          In a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading and 9% writing

•          Less than 2% of all professionals have formal education for improving listening skills and techniques

 Out in the field with horses, everyone is listening and paying attention.  Horses are watching humans, humans are watching horses, and humans are watching each other. The horses don’t necessarily ‘watch’ each other because they don’t have to.  They sense one another through deeply instinctive behavior.  In fact, their cues to one another are so subtle that, unless we’re watching very closely, we’ll miss them.  So, imagine how adept you’ll be at seeing them after spending a day with the herd?

Masters at reading their environment, masters at reading one another AND us,  horses not only demonstrate the nuances and subtleties of non-verbal communication, but they “demand” that we speak their language in their presence.  We can’t talk our way out of situations, we can’t bribe and cajole, we can only show up with naked interest, a genuine desire to learn, and a willingness to learn an all-but-forgotten language—the language of listening.

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