Great managers inspire and motivate their teams to get them to realize their maximum potential. Successful managers encourage growth and exploration. The very best managers adhere to the principal’s above and engage in an often overlooked quality in a boss, listening.
Effective leaders listen. Listening informs and synthesizes their voice. In times of crisis, being in sync with your team is imperative to its survival. Leaders must gather their staff’s observations, concerns, and insights as the collective navigate volatile environments.
Employees are now working remotely indefinitely as enterprises attempt to keep their ships above water from troubling pandemic-induced waves, a captain’s best bet to listen to those entrenched in operations.
Safety measures of the moment have disrupted the way we conduct business. Interruption to in-office normalcy has exacerbated the disconnect of the workplace atmosphere. The virtual office presents a new set of obstacles. Lags in internet speeds, screen fatigue, lack of breakroom commandery, home workspace distractions, and an absence of team-building exercises are just a few of the obstacles leaders must adapt to and operate within.
My name is Bo Parfet; I am an impact investor, philanthropist, author, explorer, and mountaineer. Created alongside my wife, Meredith Parfet, I am the founder and CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy, which finances humanitarian causes and entrepreneurs whose ethos centers around social change.
I’ve scaled the seven tallest summits each continent has to offer. During my tumultuous expeditions worldwide, I learned the importance of listening more and speaking less as an existential obligation. Listening is learning, and speaking is educating. Both are vital in communication, but in times of strife, the former carries more weight.
People listen to leaders. It’s not difficult to get wrapped in your own words and recite them to yourself and anyone who will share an ear as if it was gospel.
How can you tell if you’re talking more and listening less? There are three stages when we speak. The first is concise and task-focused. You will inevitably and subconsciously, find a sense of comfort when talking. Next, you’ll continue this tension-relief act of your monologue and find yourself too engaged in speaking that the person you’re communicating with will blur in focus; you won’t even notice if they have ceased in actively listing to you. Finally, since you’ve gone off track, pauses in your filibuster will lead you to regain the disinterested listener’s attention.
As a leader, it is crucial to articulate the business’s direction, the company’s positions, and to clarify then when necessary. After vocalizing your message, the onus is on you to listen to your team and take feedback. However, hearing out your employee’s assessments should be a year-round practice and not just centering around pertinent business matters.
Below are examples on how to listen better and speak more economically.
Be present and a proactive listener. Often when engaged in a dialogue, we occupied with our thoughts and waiting for our opportunity to speak. Connect with the speaker by maintaining eye contact. When working remotely, potential distractions are abundant, so it’s a good habit to remove anything that will pull your attention away from the speaker. Minimize other chat windows and unnecessary apps during your meeting. Avoid feedback or judgments until you’ve heard all that they have to say. Interrupting or interjecting can deflate productive exchanges.
Have a virtual open-door policy. Creating a space where your team can approach you with direct questions will strengthen your relationship with them and gives you more reps with listening. Encourage your employees to come to you with matters large or small, and keep the meetings casual if the situation allows. “Face to face” time is as essential now as it was in the in-office setting. Scheduling one-on-ones will anchor your team and avoid the disconnect distance can create. Be sure to maintain a feedback loop with your employees after registering their questions or concerns and following up on previous chats.
Ask open-ended questions. To better understand your team or specific situations, implore your employee to tap into their inner dialogue. Let them elaborate and explore their thoughts with you as the sounding board. Your willingness to mine their instincts and intellect will grow their confidence in themselves and you as their leader.
Focus on any non-verbal cues. Some members of your staff still won’t be comfortable coming to the boss with difficult news or sensitive matters, even if there’s a tension buffer of speaking virtually. They may try to couch things and won’t ultimately address their issue. Focus on their body langue and check-in to make sure everything is ok if you notice a distinct difference.
Paraphrase what they’ve said back to them. Repeating what the speaker shared will remove confusion and affirm their voice. You are conveying that the subject matter connected with you, and you are then given credibility as an active listener. It will also support the speaker to expound on their insights, thus adding more detail to the overall discussion.
Lead with empathy. Demonstrating empathy creates a bond of trust. Allow your team to come to you with positions that can cause them to feel personal or professionally vulnerable. If your response makes them feel heard and is kind, fair, and sincere, it will deepen their commitment to you and the company.
Efficient leaders must embrace their team’s truths and move forward as a unit rather than imposing old inerrant philosophies. Those atop departments and company’s must lead with the mentality that we’re all in this together. Pivoting only works if a leader is in lock-step with their team. Listening during times of crisis speaks volumes.