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How good are you as a listener?

Do you recognize any of the following traits?

· You tend to speak more than others.

· You interrupt, and believe this is a natural part of conversation.

· You come to conclusions quickly and form opinions before the speaker is finished.

· You get impatient and can’t wait to talk.

· You find yourself thinking about what you want to say instead of concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

· You are easily distracted.

· You make judgements about the speaker.

· You get angry when you hear things you don’t like and you show your displeasure, especially at bad news.

Figure 9.1: Where do you fit?

If some – or even all – of these points ring true, then you are a non-listener, or at best a superficial listener. Beware! Not only are you likely to be a poor leader, you might even be disliked.

What about these traits?

· You want to get to the bottom line quickly.

· You want facts rather than ideas.

· You’re not interested in how people feel, you just want to know what they’ve done.

· You often forget what people told you.

· You listen selectively, dipping in and out of attentiveness.

Beware! You may now be a marginal listener. You will be missing a lot of the content and exposing yourself to huge misunderstandings. Worse still, the speaker may leave the room believing that he or she has been listened to and understood, while nothing could be further from the truth.

And what about these traits?

· You actively try to hear what the speaker is saying, but you don’t always try to understand the intent behind the words.

· You are more interested in content than feelings.

· You don’t try to observe body language and facial expressions, and you stare into space while listening.

· You tend to listen without facial expression, remaining silent.

· You propose solutions as soon as the person is finished speaking.

Beware! You may fall into the trap of believing that you are a good listener, and that you understand the speaker’s message. The problem is that you may have missed important clues to what the speaker was really saying and will be puzzled as to why there appears to be little progress because of the conversation. The speaker could leave the room feeling that you had heard but not understood, and remain frustrated. Worse, if you have ‘taken over’ by giving people solutions to problems when all they wanted was some coaching, they may now feel disempowered and demotivated.

Poor listening is a common trait, and the most dangerous consequence is that leaders are cut off from the information that could prevent a crisis or enable a breakthrough. In today’s world, it is essential that leaders create an environment in which people can bring them bad news very quickly. The faster bad news gets to you, the faster you can take action. However, when you display your displeasure at bad news, people will soon stop bringing it to you, and you will be cut off from the very things you need to know to do your job. Indeed, without getting this constant stream of bad news quickly, you may soon be out of a job.

You have to make sure that you don’t only listen to those who agree with you. You have to actively seek out those whose opinions and thoughts are different to yours. You have to listen to those who will challenge you, stretch you and even confront you. It is often in this discomfort zone that you will make the biggest progress. And, sometimes, you simply have to listen in order to let people vent.

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