Henry David Thoreau wrote “It takes two to speak the truth; one to speak and another to hear.”
There’s a big difference between listening and hearing. Most of us think we’re good listeners, but are we really? In today’s polarized world, active listening and meaningful dialogue are more important than ever. The recent #MeToo movement raises difficult questions that require thoughtful answers. Those who hope to affect significant cultural change through this movement need to ensure lengthy discourse between a wide variety of people with differing opinions.
It is essential for good leaders to employ active listening techniques while engaging with board members, staff, and other stakeholders. Take the time to learn what’s important to your team, discuss their concerns, and observe how they address challenges. Armed with this information, you can create an environment that encourages teamwork, active problem solving, and commitment rather than passive compliance. Build a team that will ask, “How can we tackle this together?” rather than “Can we ever reach this goal?”
There are two types of listeners; those who listen and those who wait to talk. Most of us fall into the second category. Work on listening like it really matters, especially in times of conflict. In heated discussions, often each party is more concerned with being right than listening to different perspectives. If you find that you begin to repeat yourself in a discussion, it probably means you feel like you’re not being heard. If that’s the case, stop the conversation, and take a moment to gather your thoughts.
To become an active listener, adopt the following strategy:
- Rather than focusing just on content, listen to the tone of voice, and pay attention to body language.
- Don’t get trapped in problem solving. Remember – you are there to listen.
- Put away your cell phone or move away from the computer. Focus on the person who is speaking.
- Prior to a conversation, acknowledge your own opinions and feelings about the issue at hand, and resolve to enter the conversation with an open, inquisitive mind.
- Listen and make note of what is not being said. Issues that go unaddressed will likely need to be addressed in some future discussion.
- Do not say, “I know how you feel”, especially if you have never been in the exact same situation. Acknowledging the other person’s comment is a much better strategy.
- Never tell someone what to do, as this immediately closes the possibility of dialog, Deep listening is transformative, as being heard connects and validates people. It creates the opportunity for dialogue around big issues that everyone faces. Try and spend some time every day practicing being an active listener, and see how it changes what you learn.
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