One of the most vital tools in your arsenal as a leader is listening. Too many leaders think they need to do all the talking, and they end up missing out on vital information (as well as making their team feel insignificant). However, listening only works when your team is talking to you. Due to past instances of not listening, employees who are afraid to speak up, and a number of other reasons, you may find yourself in situations where you want to listen but no one is talking. In other cases, your team will talk to you, but you know they're not saying what they really mean. It always helps to keep a few powerful questions in the back of your mind for these times. Even when your employees seem to be unloading with no filter, these questions can still help to clarify what they're trying to say so you get the true meaning. Here are three of the most powerful questions I believe every leader needs to master to get the most out of listening.
Often times, you only get part of the story from your employees. This can happen when there has been a mistake made or a crisis has occurred, but it can also happen in mundane, everyday situations. It's not that your employees are intentionally omitting information--they're just trying to give you the facts as they see them. When you ask, "What else?", you'll find they almost always have additional information to share. This is a question you need to keep asking until they tell you that there isn't anything else. When we ask this question, we can be more assured that we're getting all the information, which allows us to make better decisions and provide more guidance to our team.
What Can You Foresee Getting in the Way?
When planning with your team, it's important to get them thinking about all the contingencies. This is especially important if your employees are really fired up about something because enthusiasm can lead to blind spots. When you ask this question, your employees go into critical thinking mode and start coming up with possible solutions if things go sideways. It also strengthens their commitment to the plan by acknowledging upfront what could get in the way, and devising their own ways to deal with it. Finally, it helps them take ownership of the plan as they have less reliance on you as the leader when they've thought it completely through. This allows you to hand over the project and focus on other important priorities in your company.
How Do You See This Situation?
There are multiple sides to every story and getting the big picture from as many of your employees as possible is key. It doesn't matter if the 'situation' in question is a crisis, a win, or a common project you work on. Finding out how each member of the team sees the situation can be very valuable because they're all viewing it from a slightly different vantage point depending on their role, their personalities, and their beliefs. Not only does it help you and them see the situation more clearly, but it also helps you understand how each of your team members thinks. It can also open your employees up and relax them so they're able to give and receive feedback without thinking they're being judged.
To be able to listen effectively as a leader, your employees need to communicate you openly and be encouraged to say what's really on their minds. When you use the above three questions, you can get to the heart of the matter, earn your team's trust, and better understand who you have working for you.
Trish Cody is an Executive Awareness Coach and Speaker who focuses on optimizing results for business leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for some of the world's top Fortune 500 companies, Trish Cody has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Practitioner, Trish works with senior level leaders and business owners to raise their levels of self-awareness and create more trust, loyalty and success in their businesses and teams. Contact Trish at firstname.lastname@example.org.