August 12, 2013

Can you hear me now?

Active listening is considered a fundamental skill for leaders. This is evident in its prominence in Communication Skills workshops and seminars. There we find exercises designed to help people become better listeners: make more eye contact; stop talking so much; reflect back the other person's comments; don't interrupt.  These are some of the strategies suggested.

These are actually pretty useful techniques for getting people to tune in more to others. But they sometimes seem insufficient;  as though they are not getting to the real reason so many leaders are not good listeners.

One approach is for leaders to become more "mindful".  Yes, I know, mindfulness is all the rage now... the popular media has picked it up, so you know it is becoming a trend. But, mindfulness has  been around for ages in eastern philosophies. It hit the US big time in the 60s, is increasingly more integrated into healthcare services (alternative/complimentary therapies), and is now permeating the workforce. So maybe there is just something to it.

What does mindfulness have to do with listening skills? It's simply this:  being a good listener requires self-understanding and self-control.  It requires being "in the moment", or being "present".  Why is this difficult? Because, leaders are often busy thinking about what just happened, or preparing for what is to come next.  However,  being an active listener means you are sitting with another person or persons, attending to what they are saying to you...NOW.  You aren't  preparing your rebuttal, or waiting for the person to finish so you can talk.  You are listening, inquiring, reflecting with an open mind.  You are curious. You are listening to understand.

So, what if instead of listening skills training we opt for "being in the moment" seminars.  It may be a harder sale to the training department. But, hey, it may just be worth a try.