Summarize and thank
Either at the end of a conversation, or periodically through the conversation, it is powerful to summarize what you have heard. Use the phrase ‘What I hear you saying is…’, or ‘What I have heard so far is…’ You could even ask the other person to summarize. This is the moment to make absolutely sure that you understand each other, in order to move on. If you now want to make some of your own points, the other person will feel much more able to listen to you now that you have demonstrated that you understand their point of view.
Never forget to thank people for sharing their thoughts with you, especially when they open up and reveal their innermost feelings, or contribute ideas. Even if you really don’t think that they delivered you any value, thank them for their time and input anyway. Remember that your job as a leader is to build relationships and trust. If you even go so far as to praise them for the way they express themselves, you will see people blossom before your very eyes.
Commit to action
Leaders must have a bias to action. Listening is all about action – it is about drawing people out so as to take action based on what they say. It is about getting people to focus on what good things they do that should be done more often, encourage them to try new actions that could generate better results, or stop doing things that are not productive.
When we listen, we are listening to learn, listening to share or listening to act. For example, we listen to our market or to our people in order to know what they think about us, our services and products. We listen to staff because they know about things going on every day that we don’t. We listen to all this data, to all these ideas and we learn. When leaders listen this way, they are likely to make much better-informed decisions. Sometimes, we listen in order to start or join conversations. This is listening to share.
Listening to act is the secret key to leadership. It enables change. When we listen to act we are positively seeking out things to do, barriers to remove, ideas to implement, people to bring together – anything that enables us to get closer to achieving our goals.
Always end a listening session by summarizing and then suggesting key next actions. Make a note of them and follow up. When you take actions but don’t tell people, you are missing a huge opportunity to further build the relationship. People will be far more committed and engaged when they believe you will act on what they’ve said.
There are, of course, times when you have to take control of the conversation and steer it in a different direction. This is more palatable when you first demonstrate that you’ve heard the speaker, and then state that you have a different perspective. You may also decide not to act on suggestions. All of this is in your remit as a leader. However, it is often cowardly not to explain why you are not going to take action. Explaining can further understanding and builds respect. At very least, it can further the relationship. Leaders are respected and trusted when they explain their decisions, even if people don’t agree with the course of action to be taken. If they feel their views have been heard and their point of view has been respected, it will be much easier for them to go along with the decisions and commit to the actions.