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Nancy Hardaway In the Zeitgeist of our world today it's hard to believe anyone knows how to listen!  When was the last time someone listening carefully, generously to you?  How well do you listen?  Take the assesssment. How will listening help your leadership? Try the tips and see.
 TV's The Big Bang Theory shows us different ways to listen. 

I listen for a living but how much of your day do you spend listening?  Have you learned how to listen well? 
As leaders, we are taught how to write well, we practice speaking and making presentations, but rarely are we taught or do we practice how to listen.
WHY?  It is in listening well that we learn -  about our people, our organizational culture, our customers or patients, our environment.   You miss nuance, and then fill in the blanks with your own story or opinions when you don't listen well.  You can't make good decisions or help anyone else unless you listen well.
When I listen, I have no agenda but to listen.  I listen to learn.  In being listened to carefully, my client learns as well.  In being listened to, my clients often find new answers within themselves.

Jon, a banker in a recent leadership class of mine, observed that he thought this type of listening would take more time.  Usually he'd half work and half listen when someone came into his office.  Now when he closes his computer and really listens to the person stopping by, the conversation has a better outcome and takes less time.  Then when he gets back to focus on his computer, that work gets done quicker, too.  He told me to quote him!
WHAT IS IT?  I love the term "generous listening" from Rachel Naomi Remen, doctor, teacher of doctors, and author of My Grandfather's Blessings and Kitchen Table Wisdom.  She encourages her young doctors to listen with their hearts, to understand the human behind the patient, to understand the emotion behind the words, and asks them to summon their best self, their best words and questions. 

Wouldn't you love to be listening to that way by your doctor, by anyone?
She describes generous listening as not interrupting, not sharing an anecdote about yourself, not even reaching for a Kleenex if someone tears up, but just being fully there.

We do an exercise in one of my leadership courses where one person speaks and the other just listens.  The exercise is specific to the person speaking but the listeners have a huge ah-ha as they discover that not responding is extremely hard!
In the public discourse today, I'm not sure that anyone is listening.  Everyone is advocating.   They are interested in influencing others but not in understanding why someone else might see things differently.  No wonder we are a country divided.
In social settings, I find many people listen by waiting to respond, rather than listening to understand.  They don't ask questions.   Sometimes they don't even wait until you finish to tell you something about themselves or what they think.  Do you ever do that?  (My son actually told me I was doing it when he arrived for a visit.  My excitement at seeing him powered up  my speaking, but not my listening.)

WHEN:  So when do you need to listen generously and when can you get away with just half listening, or just telling?  You'll know if you stay aware.  But just as a reminder, whenever there is tension, conflict, or differences, whenever there is emotion involved, it is time to listen generously.  Whenever you want to learn and to understand, it is time to listen generously.   Whenever you care about the person in front of you, listen generously.
So how do we learn to be better listeners?   
1.  Show you are ready to listen:   Come away from your desk and sit in the guest chair opposite the other person. This removes distractions as well as the physical barrier between you..   At least shut your laptop, or turn your screen away so you can maintain eye contact. 
2.  Put away your phone:  New research shows that even the presence of a cell phone that is turned off can negatively impact the quality of a conversation.
3.  Don't interrupt:  Wait until someone is completely finished their thought before you respond.  You may think you know what they want to say, but you may be wrong.  Plus, when you interrupt, they don't feel heard. 
4.  Let go of assumptions and ask open questions:   In order to fully understand, you have to set aside your own opinion and ask questions.  What do you mean?  Am I understanding you correctly?  What else should I know? 
5.  Put yourself in the other's shoes:  Imagine you are the other person.  How would you want to be listened to on this topic, and in this situation?  Why might you feel or think the way they do?
 6.  Allow time to focus:   Real listening requires time to focus.  Sometimes you don't have the time that's necessary.  Don't cheat by half-listening.  Set another time.  But remember Jon.  Listening fully can mean it takes less time.
In This Issue
My book - The Awareness Paradigm
How four leaders and a team become more successful through learning skills of leadership.  Notice in particular how Julia listens generously.
Buy in paperback or e-book version on Amazon 

This is a self-assessment on how you conduct a conversation.  It asks you to rate your use of four elements (framing, inquiry, advocacy, and listening).  Be honest when you complete it, and then think about how you might improve. 

The assessment is courtesy of GISC, which it is used in both the Skills for Influential Leadership program which I helped design and often teach, and the Leadership in the 21st Century program, in which I have coached.  
1.  One person tells a story about something that happened on their way to work (or any other story).  They can keep talking for 3 minutes.  The other person just listens, without speaking at all.    Debrief by sharing what was it like to be listened to that way, and what it felt like to listen without any obligation to respond.  

2.  Improvisation classes suggest an exercise where you hold a conversation by each speaker having to start with the same word the last speaker finished with.  Debrief by sharing what it's like to wait until someone completely finishes.
Listening 2 Leaders  
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Nancy Hardaway     Mobile:  508 776-7020