Listening is an interesting thing. We can do it without doing it! How many times has my wife said, "I told you that already," and it's like, "Really? I didn't hear it."
One of the jobs of a leader is to listen to those who they supervise regarding concerns that staff or constituents have. It is not uncommon for me to hear from the same that their leader does not listen to them. Or, to put it another way, he or she did listen, but they did not feel heard. This does not mean that they didn't get their way. It means that a conversation took place, and they didn't feel their leader actually understood their concern. It was a kind of listening but not the kind that elicits appreciation.
Active listening is one where we are fully engaged and are able to articulate the concern that the other individual has. It is genuine hearing rather than passive listening. Further, it is a hearing that seeks to come to a common understanding and, hopefully, a solution that can work for both. When there is not a win/win, at least there is a mutual understanding of why!
Why does this matter? For one, it gives regard to the concerns of others. Hearing is not the same as listening, as my wife would like to point out on a regular basis. Second, it matters that we are able to address the concerns of our staff or constituents in a way that hopefully allows us to move toward common solutions. As a leader, I should care about those concerns. If I don't, I will find myself leading fewer people. Or unhappier people. Third, those sharing concerns might just be right, and I might be wrong. But I won't know that if I don't care enough to actively engage in the conversation.
Here is what I desire people to say when they have shared concerns with me. I want them to know that I heard their concerns and can articulate them. I want them to know that if there is a way to address those concerns, I will. If I cannot move toward their solution, I want them to know the reason why. Finally, I want to preserve the relationship if at all possible. And I want them to know that I will consider what they have said - seriously.
I don't want to be a leader who "listens" but doesn't "hear." Oh, the same with my wife as well.
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