Listen First…Talk Later: A Guide for Leaders

“A leader that won’t listen to others will eventually 

be surrounded by people that have nothing to say.”

 Andy Stanley

We all consider ourselves to be experts in some area. It might be a certain technology or area within human resources. We are in our current positions because we are good at what we do. We love to be recognized for this expertise and feel good about sharing this information with others.

Nothing wrong with that, right??

It’s fine to share information with others, but sometimes there might be a better way to approach an issue. We have to be open to others opinions to improve on or change our current path. Let’s look at a couple of workplace scenarios where this is especially true.

Interviewing and Hiring that Next Great Employee

Can’t be that difficult…and I have to focus on the questions I’ve created to find out if the candidate is truly qualified.

It is important to have the right questions, but we also have to pay close attention to what a candidate says or doesn’t say. For example, I remember in my early days in recruiting, interviewing a candidate for a trainer position. I asked if she had created and delivered courses to her organization. She answered of course this is something our group does regularly. Good answer, what I wanted to hear and I moved on. Because I had in my mind the right answer I quickly moved to my next question. I should have listened to her choice of words (our group) and followed up with what her role had been. I did not. When she started work, she looked confused when asked to create a new training program for her group. She said that she hadn’t actually created the material, just delivered it. Someone else in her group did that. Wow…not what I wanted to hear. I was too concerned with getting through my questions to stop and really listen to what she had to say.

While interviewing, you must listen to what a candidate says, and doesn’t say. Truly pay attention and ask follow-up questions. Also ask open-ended questions. Based on these responses, ask for clarification if you don’t understand. Don’t just check off the box, right down the answer and move on. Truly listen and understand what is being said.

Really listen when an employee comes to you with an issue.

As a leader or manager, we have gained a lot of knowledge in our areas of expertise. Often times, employees will come to us to fix a problem they might be experiencing in their group or with their peers.

As a human resources professional, I had many employees come to my office asking me to solve an issue they were having at work. No problem, I’ve done this for years and have encountered almost all of the workforce issue they bring to my desk. Again, in my early years I would fix their problem and feel really good about myself in this process…Dang, I’m good at this.

Am I really doing a good job??

I read a book about accountability and I had a definite light bulb moment. I was fixing their immediate problem, but not their long term challenge.

So what did I do?? I started really listening to the issue. I started asking them questions about the situation specifics. I started repeating back to them what I heard, then asking them how they thought we could approach the issue.

I really listened. I would help them create their strategy to tackle the problem, but gave them the accountability to fix the situation. I didn’t need to be the expert on problem solving, they did. By truly listening and being engaged; by asking more questions and hearing the answers,  I was able to help individuals think through the problems themselves and create a strategy to fix the issue. It worked!

I actually had one employee schedule a meeting with our CEO after one of these sessions. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I hadn’t fixed her problem and gave her lots of work to do on their own. Yikes, what is going to happen next?

I received an email after the meeting from the CEO to please come down to his office. As I sat down, I was concerned about what the employee had shared. To my relief, she had expressed gratitude for the approach and felt like she was in control of the work situation. I hadn’t given her the answer, but had given her the tools to find it herself. She felt quite empowered. Whew…and…WOW!!

Only by listening can we uncover the true gems in a conversation. Thinking about our next question in an interview, or how we’re going to fix that next employee problem isn’t the answer. Listening and asking the right probing questions is the key.

Slow down, truly listen and be in the moment when you are interacting with anyone. It can make the difference between a good decision, or a bad one. And, it assures that you don’t become the “leader surrounded by those with nothing to say”.

What are you doing to improve your listening skills and habits? We’d love to hear from you anytime – add a comment to this post or email us…[email protected] with thoughts, inputs and ideas.

Sara King
Author: Sara King