After 20+ years of marriage, you would think my wife and I would be pretty good at communicating.
You would think.
Alas, I was recently reminded that communicating and being present or apparently listening are not all synonymous. Bummer.
My lovely spouse said I was only listening for key words -- sort of like skimming through a book that lacked real page-turning quality.
She said I was skim-listening. And you know, she may be right (our secret, OK?)
We all lead hectic lives; lots of "stuff" going on, lots of moving parts. We convince ourselves that time is at such a critical supply, we simply must multi-task if we are to succeed in life.
The problem, of course, is that it's more important for a leader to listen than it is for him or her to multi-task. Leading is less about personally doing than it is about facilitating the success of others who look to us for guidance. And we cannot do that effectively -- hell, at all -- without listening. And I mean full-on, no-kidding, honest-to-goodness listening.
We don't do that well. We "listen" while we check our crackberry. We "listen" while we mentally formulate our response. We "listen" while we check the caller I.D. on our cell phone. We "listen" while we text someone (familiar, AF? -- inside joke). These aren't merely insulting mannerisms (and no mistake, they are those), they simply provide proof positive that we aren't listening.
Listening, from a leadership perspective, takes serious effort. It's hard work, every bit as hard as decision-making and other leadership tasks. And it's not simply hearing, and -- apparently -- it's not skim-listening, either... Effective listening requires us to:
- Tune it out. Turn off the email "ding." Put cell phone on "quiet" (note that I didn't say "vibrate;" it's not about not disturbing others -- it's about not disturbing you). Ignore caller-I.D. In short, really, really pay attention.
- Demonstrate attentiveness. Now that you are attentive, make sure they realize it. Lean forward; make eye contact; nod when appropriate; show empathy... you know, act like you're there.
- Confirm understanding. Read it back to 'em, Dann-o. Paraphrase their comments; check for understanding; ask pertinent questions. Determine that what you heard is what they said. It's harder than you think...
Now, communications between my wife and I may not be as simple as a three-step process, but leadership communications are that simple -- provided we exert the effort necessary to accomplish this essential behavior. And it is an essential leadership behavior.
But that's just me...