You think you are a good listener.  You mostly are not.

All kinds of human things get in the way of listening in a whole-hearted way.  They could be perceptions of time, your need to reply, a desire to fix the situation, disinterest, or any other array of human conditions that thwart your willingness and even your ability to listen fully.

Although we at Leaders Inspired have written quite a bit about listening, the topic can’t be visited enough.  It is the key skill to emotionally intelligent leadership.

Whole-Hearted Listening up-levels the conversation.  Whole-Hearted Listening is a body, mind and heart thing. 

Listen with Your Body – Be involved physically.  As you settle into your body and ground yourself in the here and now, you will feel relaxed.  There is a greater willingness to really look at the other person, nod and make eye contact.  As an emotionally intelligent leader, you are also attuned to how your body responds to the stimuli and what you hear.  This physical presence creates safety for the conversation and gives you some additional information as you settle in to observe.

Listen with Your Mind – Permit your mind to quiet so that you can be present in the conversation.  When your mind is jumping around, you will miss the meat of the conversation.  Quit mentally rehearsing your reply.  Listen to make connections.  Use your intellect to create a mind map of what the person is truly saying to you.  Be mindful and smart enough to allow the person to come to their own conclusions

Listen with Your Heart – Be involved emotionally.  This is not about care-taking, rather about caring. Let your intuition guide your open-ended questions. Engaging your heart to be here now and no place else, quiets your mind and body so that you can be at ease offering heart to heart, respectful attention.  Empathize and have compassion but avoid the conversation take-over that often happens out of discomfort or the desire to fix.

Be easy about this.  Listening, like leadership is presence, not performance.  Witnessing and compassionate presence is what is required.  When you “try hard” to listen, resistance and effort is introduced.  Simply allowing yourself to listen is effortless and time stands still – for both parties. That kind of listening is deeply fulfilling.

In the signature program, Leadership Mastery™, basic skills of listening are taught and practiced.  Compare it to learning to lift weights. Both are mastered with repetition.  Silence, listening for themes, paraphrasing, asking open-ended questions, using a pause, non-verbal’s, and body language are all basic, practiced skills.

When working with the advanced students, a few up-leveling skills are added to the leadership toolbox resulting in a more advanced, whole-hearted way of listening better.  When you listen better, you lead better.  When you lead better, the team performs better.  Win. Win. Win.

Here are 5 tips for you to listen as a Whole-Hearted Leader:

  1. Encourage others to express issues and feelings
    • What you might say:  I want to know…; please tell me…; how did that feel?
      • This adds richness to the conversation as emotions create another level.  It also shows respect and caring.
  2. Clarify
    • What you might say:  Can you say more?  Did I hear you say…? 
      • Not only do you want to make sure you are tracking with the conversation, you may intuit that there is something left unsaid and the clarification may surface that.
  3. Restate/Label
    • What you might say:  It sounds like…; It appears that…
      • Loosely borrowed from author/negotiator, Chris Voss (Never Split the Difference), this allows you to do two things at once.  First you are able to restate the FACTS, as you understand them.  Second, this is an opportunity to check out your assumptions about what the other person is saying.
  4. Reflect Feelings
    • What you might say:  I can imagine how…; It seems like you were angry…; I can tell how frustrated you are.
      • This is a kissing cousin to restating/labeling and different from point one (which is a general stance of encouraging feelings and issues).  Here is the opportunity to be completely in the moment and reflect back the feelings that you are hearing and feeling from the other person.  You may be right or wrong, yet the offering of this reflection allows the other person to say yes or no and takes the conversation to a new place.
  5. Validate and Appreciate
    • What you might say:  I’m happy we talked; I’m glad we are trying to figure this out; I appreciate knowing about this
      • This is the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae.  This one closing of a conversation, delivered real time and with complete sincerity, buttons up the safety and sacredness of the listening and sharing that just occurred.  This is not about agreeing with what you just heard – you may or may not agree.  This is about honoring that people want to be acknowledged and appreciated.  Your time spent listening coupled with your validation creates expansion and – yes – love.

It takes courage to be a Whole-Hearted Listener.  Just as it takes courage to be in the spotlight of leadership.  Courage and vulnerability don’t need to be hard.  When body, mind and heart are part of the equation, you are supported.  Things can be easier, more grounded, intentional yet effortless. Bonus – you are more accessible to your people, you can connect in a masterful way and you get priceless information that strengthens the bond.

Mary Pat Knight, CEO of Leaders Inspired, is a Transformation Strategist, Speaker, Facilitator, and Coach committed to leadership and emotional intelligence in the workplace. She is known for cutting through corporate drama to create laser focus for powerful business and personal results for her clients. 

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