Are You Waiting For People to Shut Up, So You Can Talk?

By Paul Edwards – CEDR CEO and Founder

All too often, we as leaders forget that part of being decisive must include listening to others. For communication to be effective and powerful, it requires leaders to listen first. Which is why the article below really hit home for me. I found this amazing article by Dr. Travis Bradberry back in 2017, and still think it’s extremely relevant and has some valuable insight today.

I was in a communication course about ten years ago where the presenter started his talk by posing the following question: “How many of you in this room believe you are a good listener?” Most of us in the room raised our hands, including myself. We were all CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers in that room. How can you be a good leader if you’re not a good listener?

The presenter smiled and waved our hands down. “Many of us believe we’re good listeners, and we intend to be good listeners. But unfortunately, it’s just not true.”

He continued his explanation: “In reality, what we do is pretend we’re listening while other people speak. We even think we are listening. But most of the time, what we are really doing is waiting for the other person to shut up so we can add our opinion or tell our story.” In other words, if you are thinking about what you want to say while someone else is speaking, that’s not good listening. It’s something else. And it’s not powerful, it’s not likable, and it’s not serving you well as a leader. Simply put, it’s a terrible habit.

In the article I mentioned above, item #3 highlights how not listening and not asking questions actually makes us unlikable.

“Not asking enough questions. The biggest mistake people make in conversation is being so focused on what they’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost. A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening, and something as simple as a clarification question shows that not only are you listening but that you also care about what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.”

I have an added perspective: When you don’t ask your team members for input, or you don’t truly listen to them and actively incorporate their thoughts, you end up doing all the work yourself. Employees stop engaging because they do not feel like they’re participating in active problem-solving work. They feel unheard.

There’s a flip side to this, too. Leaders who find themselves saying “my employees just don’t think for themselves” should take a close look at how they’re listening to their employees. Most likely, you need to practice combining true listening with the art of asking questions. (This isn’t the same as cross-examining your employees, by the way—giving someone the third degree isn’t a way to engage them, either!)

Oct 12, 2022

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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