“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”— Woodrow Wilson
We all have the ability to listen but not everyone uses that skill. We’re often too busy working out our reply before the speaker has even finished with his words.
Neuroscience shows us that while hearing is relatively simple, listening is not as easy. It involves three distinct regions of the brain.
- The posterior cortex of the brain is where we “hear” as it processes and recognises sounds.
- When we actually listen rather than hear, we use the prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain which controls our decision making process and logic. We sort the information we hear and decide what action to take.
- When we become involved – an active participant in the listening process – the limbic system is activated, processing our emotional responses.
So there are three separate steps involved in listening. Most of us stop at step 2. What are the implications of that for leaders? The expression “getting to the heart of the matter” is the key.
If you are only hearing 2 parts of the information your team is sharing with you, your decision making process will be flawed. You will never get to the heart of the matter because you’ve ignored the emotional subtext of the conversation. If you make decisions based purely on logic without taking into account the way your team feels, your chances of success are limited.
Do you really listen to your team? Would you say that you listen more than you talk? How does the conversation balance when you speak with your team? As leader, you may need to be listening more than talking.
Great leaders are great listeners. They give their people the power of a voice, an opinion and a say in the team’s final outcome. They show they have heard and understood what their team is telling them. You can imagine how that boosts a feeling of involvement and commitment to team goals.
Paying attention to what your team members say shows that you value and respect each person and helps you build solid relationships with them.
If your habit is to offer solutions as soon as you think you’ve heard enough, it’s time to develop a new habit. Learn to wait until your team member has finished speaking, learn to pay attention the whole time and learn to ask questions, too. If you can master the power of listening, you will have a happier and healthier team behind you.
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