In our last posting, we heard from a group of leaders who identified the willingness to listen as one of the key characteristics of a trustworthy leader. Given that trust touches every facet of leadership, further exploring how to listen well is a natural next step. Over the next two weeks we'll explore some practices that make us better listeners, and thereby, more trustworthy leaders. This week we'll focus on one of the simplest ways to improve our ability to listen. It's a practice that creates a reward disproportionately greater than the effort it takes.
Process of Elimination
This is so basic that it's almost embarrassing to mention it. But with technology as ubiquitous in our lives as it is, what comes next must be said.
If we want to be great listeners, we must proactively manage technology while we interact with others. To put it in more concrete — and maybe even more inspiring — terms, imagine this: What would happen if each time someone came into your office to chat, you turned your phone to silent (not to vibrate, but to silent), placed it in your desk drawer, and closed your laptop?
Think about actually doing that for just a moment. In walks someone who wants to talk, away goes the technology.
> What would it feel like to be able to have a conversation without the usual dings and buzzes in the background?
> What would it feel like to be free from the temptation to glance at your computer screen while having a conversation?
> What would it communicate to the person with whom you’re interacting to put away all of your technology when starting a conversation?
I know the objections to managing technology in this way, especially from leaders. “But I have to be available at all times. What if there’s a safety emergency? What if a key customer calls? What if, what if, what if…?”
First, each of us needs to get real with ourselves about how important we really are. Yes, we may have the title of “leader” but does that mean the whole operation will come crashing down if we’re not available 24/7? Second, if you have a leadership role that doesn’t allow you to turn off technology even for 15 minutes, what can you do to reduce technological distractions? How creative are you willing to get to create space to be able to listen well to others?
One leader I know got very creative. In order to hold himself accountable to not look at his computer while interacting with others, a friend and colleague, John Ott, had a sign strategically hung in the sight line of where a visitor would sit in his office. The sign said, “If I’m NOT LOOKING at you, then I’m NOT LISTENING to you.”
Now that sends a message to both parties, doesn’t it?
No matter what the specifics are of our leadership roles, there is almost always something that can be done to reduce the technological interruptions that keep us from listening as well as we could.
Reward > Effort
When done well, managing our technology in order to help us listen well does more than make others feel as if they matter. It communicates -- both to them and to ourselves -- that they actually do matter. That distinction might seem like hair-splitting to some, but it's not. There is far greater power in valuing others enough to listen to them than merely trying to get them to feel as we are listening to them. To make it a little clearer, just ask yourself which you'd rather have -- someone trying to make you feel like you're being listened to or someone who is actually listening to you? We'd all choose the latter and that's what our followers want from us as well.
We trust people who listen to us more than those who don't. That's true for us and it's true for those we lead. Becoming a more trustworthy leader is the reward for those who manage their technology well in order to be better listeners. That's an awfully big win for simply putting our gadgets away.
Stay tuned next week as we explore how to manage what's in our heads and hearts in order to become better listeners and, thereby, more trustworthy leaders.
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