Listening is a big topic at The Latimer Group. We write on our blog and teach in our workshops about things like active listening and listening bias, as well as some specific tactics on how to listen better. But today I want to write about why being a good listener is so important.
Listening, at its most basic level, is essentially a commitment to two-way communication. If I refuse to listen, then I am only interested in communication in a single direction — from me to you. But that kind of communication is selfish and short-sighted.
There are many challenges of 21st century communication and leadership. And the common denominator of these challenges is that no one really listens to anyone anymore. Everyone is so obsessed with being heard, that no one takes the time to hear!
As I often do, I relate this business challenge to the relationship I have with our young son. He asks a million questions, every day, and everything we ask him to do is greeted with questions as to why. Emily and I made a pact with each other when he was born that we would always try to be patient with him, and that we would always encourage him to ask questions and have a vibrant mind. So far, so good. But encouraging questions all the time is exhausting! There are many times I wish that he would stop asking questions and just do what we ask him to do. That might feel good in the short term, but it won’t pay off long term. Why? Because we don’t want a child who just shuts up and does what he is told. We want him to think, to seek to understand, to be alive every moment of every day.
And that, at its essence, is why listening to colleagues and being committed to two-way communication is so important. Do you want people who just do what you tell them to do? Or do you want people who think for themselves, and have the confidence to ask questions and make decisions? I think the answer, for most of us anyway, is the latter.
Make long-term investments in your people and your organization. Create an organization where people are encouraged to think, discuss, debate, and yes, disagree. And to create this kind of an organization, we must set a tone for two-way conversation, which by definition, means we have to know how to speak and how to listen.