Listening at the level where we understand someone’s meaning doesn’t come easily for leaders who are surrounded with distractions.
The ability to hear sound comes naturally, but the ability to understand a sound’s meaning (including someone’s words and emotions) is learned.
Listening at the level where we understand someone’s meaning doesn’t come easily for leaders who are surrounded with distractions. It takes hard work, especially for those of us who have spent the better part of our lives with our brain (if not our mouths) chattering away.
Yet the ability to really listen is foundational to a leader’s skill in attracting enthusiastic followers. While simple in theory, listening to the level of understanding is rare (just try to remember those times that you felt really listened to). I’ve often wondered how many leaders have been derailed due to an inability or unwillingness to listen yet were told it was for other reasons (“not a team player” or “lack of empathy”). It isn’t easy to reverse a lack of listening; it requires a desire to understand what others are trying to communicate and a great deal of practice.
This kind of listening is the opposite of the “pretend listening” that some leaders are very skilled at — where the chatter in their heads doesn’t stop and they don’t retain what they heard. They nod and have a faraway look in their eyes. If you are one of those, make no mistake that those who are communicating with you know that you are up to.
The wandering gaze, the checking of your smartphone and asking others to repeat what they just said give you away. Caught in the act, you aren’t really listening at all.
Pretend listening does more harm than good, so it’s best not to bother until you are ready and willing to really listen.