“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
While you or I could tell a new hire or current employee exactly what areas they need to focus on developing, and we could present a detailed plan for them to improve themselves, this approach too often backfires. The key point missing in this scenario is the employee’s “ownership” of their own challenges and goals — and that ownership is paramount to successful change.
With this in mind, the most productive approach when coaching, or having a Winslow Assessment review, is to simply ask good questions and then sit back and listen. Believe me, this is not as easy as it sounds when you are accustomed to giving feedback and not pausing to listen to the person in front of you.
During your one-on-one session, the employee should identify the three traits (from their Winslow feedback or simply from what they know about themselves) that are assets and how they plan to capitalize on them, as well as three traits that may be liabilities and how they want to change or modify them. Ask questions to help them dig deeper in this thought process so that they’re not simply responding with off-the-top generalizations or vague answers.
Your job during these one-on-one reviews is to listen.
Research suggests nonjudgmental listening makes an employee more:
- less defensive.
With this in mind, the next time you’re in a Winslow debrief or employee coaching session:
- Listen carefully and thoughtfully to everything being said. Don’t jump to conclusions or interrupt.
- Give the person space to express themselves and ask relevant questions to encourage them to keep talking. When people sense that others are truly hearing them, they’re much more likely to open up.
- Eye contact and body language signal that you’re focused on your employee and want to hear their thoughts.
- Refrain from suggesting solutions to problems. Even with feedback, your role should be to help the employee discover solutions themselves.
Tips for becoming a better listener (from Harvard Business Review)
Listening resembles a muscle. It requires training, persistence, effort, and most importantly, the intention to become a good listener. It requires clearing your mind from internal and external noise — and if this isn’t possible, postponing a conversation for when you can truly listen without being distracted. Here are some best practices:
- Give 100% of your attention, or do not listen. Put aside your smartphone, iPad, or laptop, and look at the speaker, even if they do not look back at you. In an ordinary conversation, a speaker looks at you occasionally to see that you’re still listening. Constant eye contact lets the speaker feel that you are listening.
- Do not interrupt. Resist the urge to interrupt before the speaker indicates that they are done for the moment. In our workshop, we give managers the following instruction: “Go to someone at your work who makes listening very hard on you. Let them know that you are learning and practicing listening and that today, you will only listen for __ minutes (where the blank could be 3, 5, or even 10 minutes), and delay responding until the predetermined listening time is up, or even until the following day.”
- Managers are often amazed at their discoveries. One shared, “In 6 minutes, we completed a transaction that otherwise would have taken more than an hour.” Another told us, “The other person shared things with me that I had prevented her from saying for 18 years.”
- Do not judge or evaluate. Listen without jumping to conclusions and interpreting what you hear. You may notice your judgmental thoughts but push them aside. If you notice that you lost track of the conversation due to your judgments, apologize to the speaker that your mind was distracted, and ask them to repeat. Do not pretend to listen.
- Do not impose your solutions. The role of the listener is to help the speaker draw up a solution themselves. Therefore, when listening to a fellow colleague or subordinate, refrain from suggesting solutions. If you believe you have a good solution and feel an urge to share it, use a question, such as “I wonder what will happen if you choose to do X?”
- Ask more (good) questions. Listeners shape conversations by asking questions that benefit the speaker. Good listening requires being thoughtful about what the employee needs help with most and crafting a question that would lead them to search for an answer. Ask questions to help employees delve deeper into their thoughts and experiences.
- Before you ask a question, ask yourself, “Is this question intended to benefit the employee or satisfy my curiosity?” Of course, there is room for both, but a good listener prioritizes the needs of the other. One of the best questions you can ask is, “Is there anything else?” This often exposes novel information and unexpected opportunities.
- Reflect. When you finish a conversation, reflect on your listening and think about missed opportunities — moments you ignored potential leads or remained silent versus asking questions.
During those times when you feel that you were an excellent listener (and you will get better and better at this), consider what you’ve gained, what the employee gained, and how you can apply this type of listening in more challenging circumstances.