Over time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that his guests were never really listening to what he was saying. One day at a reception he decided to try a little experiment. As each guest arrived and shook the president’s hand he smiled politely and said pleasantly, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”
As Roosevelt had anticipated, the guests responded with such comments as, “Marvelous!” “Keep up the good work!” “We are proud of you!” God bless you, sir!”
It was not until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his guest actually listened to what Roosevelt was saying. The ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Funny story aside, listening is tough. No really, listening is hard. People often act as if they are listening as they nonchalantly non their head and look at you with their eyes glazed over. All the while, they are thinking about things that have nothing to do with the conversation at hand.
According to a study measuring average listening ability, "75% of the time, we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful" (Hunsaker). In layman's terms, that means listening is not only hard, but you are probably bad at it.
You probably understand the cliché's that surround listening. Phrases like "listen for the real meaning" or "listen to understand, not to respond". Although these are both good and true, here are three helpful tips about listening that will truly make the difference for you and your team.
1. Appreciation is shown, not just spoken
Every great leader should be willing to give out compliments and words of encouragement to the people they lead. However, when it comes to leadership verbal affirmation is typically the type of appreciation cast into the spotlight. Yes, it is true that people love to hear appreciation, but they also love to be shown appreciation.
Everyone has a need to feel heard and be treated as if their voice matters. As a leader, there is nothing more valuable to your people than knowing that their ideas, opinions, and feelings are valued. In other words, people will feel appreciated, respected, and important when you listen to them.
2. Listening is the end, but asking is the beginning
Great leaders create an environment where people are comfortable sharing their ideas. However, great leaders take it one step further by asking great questions. They don't just listen to ideas, they ask for them. They don't just appreciate feedback, they seek after it.
You see, great leaders empower others to speak up by asking questions, and they fervently listen and analyze what is being said. So, do not wait on your people to speak up. Lead them well by encouraging them to share what's on their mind. Ask them great questions, and then consider their responses.
3. Connection creates chemistry
Without an environment where listening is encouraged, connection becomes stagnant and people begin to stuff their thoughts, ideas, and dreams right back inside of them. With little camaraderie amidst a team, this will quickly lead to a culture of passivity and frustration.
However, as you listen with intention, connection is formed and chemistry can begin to develop. When a community of people feel listened to, an environment of collaboration and teamwork is the result. You see when there is chemistry, momentum is sure to follow.
The truth of the matter is that these principles are true in every meaningful relationship you have. You must be willing to listen, or else your relationships can easily become dull and one-sided. As leaders, you have an opportunity to help others feel valued and important. You get to learn from others by asking great questions, and you have the opportunity to create a culture of teamwork and connection. No great leader gets anywhere on their own, so fully embrace the potential of yourself and those around you by learning to listen well.