Listening, like any other skill, can be taught and learned. But when you’re dealing with senior leadership in powerful organizations, egos can get in the way. Ironically, we actually want our executives to have strong egos (note: I said strong, not big). The strong ego, driven by self-confidence and high self-esteem is actually what we look for and what is needed from leadership. So we have to make sure when we’re talking about developing listening and communication skills that we manage those skills within that ego framework. After all, we can’t help organizations succeed if we break down the ego, so instead, lets channel it and use it for good instead of evil.
Show the Value
It never fails, as soon as the conversation turns to listening skills and communication, senior people get that glazed look and their eyes roll back in their heads. You can almost hear the mumbles, “Here we go again with this soft skill crap; it has no place in my business.” In helping change that mentality, I show them how it’s actually good for them. No, it’s not enough to explain how listening skills are important, blah, blah, blah. Top performers already know that.
Instead, I show them how it’s in their own self-interest, not just the business or team’s interest, and believe it or not, they listen. I explain to them how by getting feedback, people can actually do the things that we want them to do without us having to be looking over their shoulders every minute – wasting your time and theirs. They can do it faster and in a way that we would do it if we were there. We actually expand our reach by having people do things we would do when we’re not around.
How cool is that?
Setting Clear Expectations
Why are clear expectations so vital? Because they reduce questions, follow up, re-work, and most importantly, the need to have those conversations none of us like where we have to say: “What the hell are you doing? I told you to do this, and you did this instead.” (P.S. if you’re having that specific conversation, we should chat anyway). Clear expectations also reduce the likelihood of saying something stupid. If we’re having a problem and we’re sitting around the table talking about it, how many times does the CEO get exasperated and lean over to his marketing guy and say: “You’re going to take care of this right?” Now who’s surprised when the outcome is inconsistent with what the CEO would have wanted? Exactly.
The key to influencing leadership with the value of listening skills is by showing them that there’s a valid reason and a vested interest in changing some of these interpersonal behaviors. Help decision-makers and high-performers understand and accept how it’s good for them– not just for the business. They don’t buy the studies, the surveys etc. that promote listening skills and communication as a key to success, but if it’s made clear that it is also good for them personally, it’s generally perceived as worthwhile and can then be taken seriously.