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Listen…can you hear the silence?

Poor communication is the cause of major problems, from production errors to sagging morale. Often, employees feel misunderstood and mistrustful, despite managers’ efforts to communicate and connect.

Why? Employees don’t feel listened to or understood. When managers plan to communicate, what they usually have in mind is to talk. They also may distribute handouts, PowerPoint presentations, in-house newsletters, and other forms of “getting out the message.” They may hold team meetings—where they do most of the talking.

What all of these strategies have in common is that they’re one-way, or mostly one-way. Managers are trying to communicate by disseminating a message, rather than by creating a conversation.

Most importantly, by listening.

Think of someone who’s a great listener. What makes them a great listener? They don’t interrupt. They look at you. They seem focused, nonjudgmental, and willing to help. Can you see how these are also leadership qualities?

Here are a few tools you can use immediately to be a better listener. What’s in it for you? Oh, just less stress, more time and a better bottom line….that’s all…

W. A. I. T.

A few years ago, I admitted to one of my professional colleagues that I needed a little reinforcement myself in becoming a better listener. This colleague shared with me an acronym that she sometimes writes as a reminder to herself in her calendar or on a piece of paper when she’s in a meeting: W. A. I. T.

This stands for Why Am I Talking? Or, Why Am I Thinking? Or, Why Am I Telling?

Oddly enough, many people, when attempting to listen… talk. We’re uncomfortable with silence, we want to be helpful, we have a lot of good ideas ourselves. All of this is legitimate. However, it does not advance the cause, which is developing your people to be more productive, take responsibility for their projects and their decisions and become accountable for the desired results.

In order to have this occur, one must first become a good listener. In order to become a good listener, one must first stop talking.

Additionally, to become a great listener, one must also stop thinking, specifically, thinking about the next thing you want to say in a conversation, as opposed to listening what the other person is trying to say.

And, also to stop telling people what to do and how to do it. Stop having things be all about you and how you want things done. Instead, try listening to what others have to say and ask them more vs. telling them more.

If you know this is a weakness of yours—if you tend to dominate meetings, even when you try to sit back and listen—then keep this acronym close at hand. I like the implied humor of the question; it helps us ask ourselves to “zip it,” but in a gentle, nonjudgmental way.

You might investigate within yourself. Why are you talking? Habit? Nervousness? Impatience? You might explore where this comes from. Maybe you learned from a talkative parent or supervisor. But it doesn’t really matter. Just develop the discipline to be quiet and really listen.

W.A.I.S.T.

Why Am I Still Talking? Thinking? Telling? This acronym is for those that have “advanced” listening-needs-to-be-improved syndrome. Just a little reality check for you. To develop accountable employees, you’re going to have to give them a chance to talk about their problems, their solutions, their ideas, their fears, their failures, and their lives. It won’t always be scintillating. It won’t always feel terribly productive at that moment. You might be impatient to give answers, give direction, and tell your own stories. Resist these urges. Let go, also, of the temptation to mentally prepare clever remarks or retorts. Just listen. Listen.

Listen.

Listen.

After all, silence is golden!

Listening is one necessary and important quality of a great leader. If you need help making the shift from manager to leader, Alan M. Dobzinski provides executive consultation for business owners, executives, managing partners and CEO’s of family owned businesses.

Contact him today to get started.

Check out my latest book, The Buck Starts Here: Why Leadership Accountability Is The Key To Less Stress, More Time & A Better Bottom Line. To get your copy, click here.

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