5 listening tips for busy leaders

Life can get pretty busy and when it does listening goes out the window. When we are busy we can feel overwhelmed and stressed out and feeling this way makes it hard to listen – to ourselves and to others.

I was reading an article by the University of Missouri which said that 45% of our time in daily communication is used to listen and yet it is one of our most ineffective communication skills. Why? I think part of it is because we are all so busy. We don’t always have time to listen to the answer to the questions we ask…e.g. ‘how are you today?’ or that dreaded moment when we are drowning in work/kids/busyness when someone says ‘do you have a moment?’.

Being a role model

As leaders and influencers we often have the responsibility to be role models for those around us, it is also a fact of life that whether we use that responsibility or not, people learn from us regardless. I have found over the last 9 years of being a coach/mentor that I learn as much from them too.

The skills I have learnt as a coach and mentor handily transfer right over to other situations – professional and personal. Listening is one of those skills. So today I wanted to give you a tip or two that might help get you through your leadership journey…(and might help in other areas too).

Communication involves listening well and talking in a way which encourages the other person to talk back to you and of course listen back for you too! If you are in a position of leadership then we would like our team to tell us what they are really feeling and experiencing; otherwise there’s no trust in the team and no-one gives you an honest answer. In order to do that we need to listen in a way which is sensitive to their feelings – whether those feelings are happy/sad/embarrassed/angry/fearful.

“The roots of effective leadership lie in simple things, one of which is listening. Listening to someone demonstrates respect; shows you value their ideas and are willing to hear them” – John Baldoni

Five tips to listen when you are busy

  1. Be available and willing to listen – you can’t control when they are going to start telling you something important to them.  It is almost certainly not going to take as long as you think it will. I was trying to think of an example when you might be genuinely too busy to listen – to be honest I can’t think of many – perhaps if you are on the way to a meeting, in a meeting or on the phone but really, we are so rarely *actually* doing something we that we genuinely can’t stop for a few minutes in order to listen.
  2. Give them a time frame if you really can’t listen in that moment e.g. ‘I am talking to someone on the phone right now, I will be five more minutes and then I will be able to listen to you.’ In this scenario, ensure that five minutes doesn’t become twenty minutes!
  3. Only make promises that you can keep. If you are having a really busy week – working on a project deadline or perhaps at home moving house, then schedule in some time with them in the future  when you will definitely be able to catch up.
  4. Set aside regular time to talk together regularly. I know some people who choose lunch times and walk and talk; others block out time in their calendar or schedule a 1:1 meeting. Do what works for you.
  5. Create a space for yourself to think. So many leaders are overwhelmed with trying to get ‘one more thing’ done and checked off the list. Prepare for distractions that will inevitably come up by organising your time effectively and prioritising what you work on, choosing one thing at a time and setting clear boundaries for yourself.

Listening is enough

Remember, you don’t need to find a solution for them or jump in with advice or put words in their mouth. Listening is enough, I promise. People really feel heard if you listen. It also means they trust you enough to tell you what’s going on and that makes for a far happier team. Being a leader who listens doesn’t mean you always have to drop everything; but if you care about it enough then it can be worth showing your colleagues/team that your working relationship hasn’t got lost in the pile of to-do’s.

Perhaps over the next week try being available to listen and see if it changes anything for you (and your relationship with your colleagues). You might even try it out in other areas of your life.

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