The power of listening

Leaders don’t – and can’t – always have all the answers. That’s why good ones understand the power of listening. And the best amongst them go even further, creating a culture of listening in their organisations. A culture of listening is one where all voices are heard – and we maximise the value we get out of our most important resources: our people. It increases creativity and trust, and leads to more thoughtful solutions to the challenges faced by businesses today.

Building a culture of listening in your organisation

Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind, lists ten components to create what she calls the “thinking environment” – a place where listening is privileged. And you can use them to create a culture of listening in your workplace. They are:

Attention – a respectful focus and “genuine interest” in what the other person has to say, listening without interruption.

Equality – even in hierarchical organisations, we can respect each other’s equality as a thinker. Making sure everyone’s voice gets heard in turn ensures that even the quietest member of staff is included in the process.

Ease – making sure that people have the time to think. Remove urgency and let people ponder, without a sense of rush.

Appreciation – we quickly learn to challenge others’ ideas, but appreciation is vital if we want to get the best out of people. Kline suggests practising a 5:1 appreciation to challenge ratio.

Encouragement – competition might let some individuals succeed relative to others, but it doesn’t guarantee excellence. Encourage people to speak up and create a non-threatening environment for problem solving.

Feelings – strong negative emotions can inhibit our abilities to think and communicate clearly. This is why we must learn to let people unburden themselves and experience sufficient emotional release.

Information – it’s important to have access to all the facts, and that might mean hearing uncomfortable truths. Learning how to “dismantle our denial” can give us access to the bigger picture, and free people up to be honest with us.

Difference – increasing diversity of opinion means seeing an issue from a greater number of perspectives. This is incredibly valuable, and one of the most important reasons to make sure everyone in your organisation is being heard.

Questions – asking the right question can help to dissolve limiting beliefs that people have (wrongly) assumed are true. Behind this belief lie creativity and curiosity.

Place – creating a physical environment that lets people know they are valued helps them to think at their best and share their thoughts freely.

Do you need help learning to listen?

Creating a culture of listening is easy in theory – but in practise, it can be a challenge. However, it is worth the hard work, and has the potential to transform your business into a more productive place to be. If you’re struggling to create this culture, please contact us.