Here is an excerpt from an article written by Melissa Daimler for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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“What do you think?”
I ask this question a lot. My team knows that when they come to me with a question, this is likely the question I’ll come back with first. Sometimes I even preface it with, “I don’t know.” As leaders in our organizations, it’s up to us to coach colleagues and our employees through finding that answer. More often than not, when I ask this question, my team has a better answer than I do — or one that I hadn’t thought about before.
It can be a powerful technique, especially if there is no single right answer – a situation that will be familiar to anyone doing leading-edge work. But it only works in an organization that values listening.
In a growing, constantly changing company like Twitter, there aren’t a lot of things that remain the same for very long. New teams form, new team members join, and projects shift based on new priorities.
With so few anchors in our work environment, and so many variables we can’t control, it’s important to double down on the things we can control.
Listening is an overlooked tool that creates an environment of safety when done well. Several studies over the decades have estimated that we spend anywhere from a third to half our time listening. And yet we don’t retain very much. Back in 1957, researchers found that listeners only remembered about half of what they’d heard immediately after someone finished talking. There’s no reason to think that ratio has improved since then.
Listening can be a challenging skill to master. In our management development sessions, we find it helpful to highlight three levels of listening:
Internal listening is focused on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, even as you pretend you’re focusing on the other person. In our sessions, we usually illustrate this type of listening with a simple prop — an iPhone. People laugh, not because it’s funny, but because they recognize that this type of listening is what they often do themselves.
Focused listening is being able to focus on the other person, but you’re still not connecting fully to them. The phone may be down and you may be nodding in agreement, but you may not be picking up on the small nuances the person is sharing.
360 listening. This is where the magic happens. You’re not only listening to what the person is saying, but how they’re saying it — and, even better, what they’re not saying, like when they get energized about certain topics or when they pause and talk around others.
When I close my laptop and it’s just me and the person across the table, there’s a connection. There’s energy. There’s the reminder of what’s possible if we focus on what the other person has to say. I’m reminded of why what we’re building together matters.
Listening creates spaciousness, which we need to do good work. And the converse is also true: I listen more when I create space in my day. When I have back-to-back meetings, my goal is to get through them with just enough time to run to the other building for my next meeting. When I strategically create space on my calendar to reflect on a conversation and prepare for the next one, I can be more present for others.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Melissa Daimler currently heads the Global Learning & Organizational Development team @Twitter, integrating interests in learning, coaching, and organizational dynamics into a career. Follow Melissa @mdaimler.