Have you ever watched elephant seals? The males make some of the most unusual sounds you’ll ever hear. They set their territory, fight with other males, and protect their harem all by using this very distinctive low-frequency, guttural noise. Even the young ones test out their “voices” amidst a pile of sleeping females. All in all, elephant seals are the masters of making you really listen!
As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to learn when to speak and when to listen. In a recent conversation with Chancellor Bernie Patterson of University Wisconsin Stevens Point, Patterson asked me “what is the most important advice you give leaders.” My response was, “Just listen”. We agreed that asking good questions and listening are two of the most important traits of a leader.
Yet, how do we create a culture of listening in a fast paced world where everything seems urgent and important? How do we slow down and truly listen to understand each other?
Julius Treasure gives us five ways to be a more conscious listener in his very popular Ted Talk. Many business books advocate for the practice of active listening. Even Forbes magazine has a helpful list of 10 steps to improve your listening. It seems there is a lot of advice for helping leaders learn to listen.
Eye contact, not preparing a rebuttal, listening for emotions, and not imposing solutions are all great suggestions for learning how to listen. However, I’d like to propose a different approach to becoming a great listener and that is to tap into your own talents and strengths.
Let’s say, you are a person who’s greatest talents is learning and general curiosity; then perhaps use that talent to ask great questions so you can truly understand what the person is saying. Or maybe you are more of a relationship building person, use your talents of empathy to listen for the emotional tones of the message. As someone who has talents in completing tasks, then you could listen and ask clarifying questions about action steps that are needed. Turning to your talents will help you to be the best listener possible because it’s your personalized approach to listening. Any time I read “five easy steps”, I think….those steps worked for that author but might not work for everyone. I’m suggesting we all tap into our greatest talents for listening and it will become one easy step.
What is your greatest talent? How can you leverage it for listening to your colleagues, friends and family members?