Go Beyond Listening to Make Others Feel Heard

Quit focusing on what you will say next.

You’ve discovered the importance of really listening to those who support you, and that’s great. Listening is a powerful tool for leaders, but making sure that people feel heard is even more powerful.

Think about the last time you felt heard. You might recall that you felt included and involved even when things didn’t go as you preferred. You may have been disappointed at an outcome or decision from the conversation, but you understood why it happened and you didn’t hold a grudge.

When people feel heard by you, they participate fully in your leadership, your organization, and the work that needs to be done. Things move forward, get done, and people collaborate to make sure they happen in the right way and for the right reasons.

A conversation where people are hearing each other is flowing, slower than usual, and everyone feels welcome to participate. Judgments about what others are saying are few and far between; in fact, the best “hearing conversations” happen without judgment. People in the conversation aren’t trying to fix someone or something. They are listening for understanding.

A conversation where people don’t feel heard often sounds like staccato. Everyone is talking about themselves and what they want and think is best without connection between the words that are spoken. They are judging others and their opinions; and that judgment can range from kind to cruel.

Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and (worse yet) a feeling of rejection and isolation keeps people from doing their best. Grudges are held on to and potential is stifled. If this goes on long enough, people will give up trying to be heard.

There is a difference between listening and making sure others are heard, and that difference can be significant to the success of your leadership, so:

Slow down. Notice how often you are listening while thinking of what you’ll say next. You can’t hear others when your focus is on your own thoughts. One of the most important things you can do is to slow down your mind and body so that you can really hear the words and what’s behind them.

Listen deeper. In order for others to feel heard, you must continue to listen, but at a deeper level than you might be familiar with. When your monkey mind starts chattering away (often trying to find something to say about yourself or your opinion), bring it back to listening to that all-important person right in front of you.

Hear well. They’ll know they’ve been heard when you ask them to clarify, encourage their ideas (even if you disagree), or when you inquire about the subject they’re speaking of on a deeper level. Listening can be a surface thing, but really hearing takes an effort to understand others’ thoughts, opinions, or ideas.

Go beyond surface listening to having a goal of making others feel heard. It’ll make a big difference in deepening the level of engagement you see in your organization.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.

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