Most people assume that leading is an action verb. When great leaders talk, people listen. But equally important, great leaders also listen when people talk. And they do it well.
One of the hallmark skills of a strong leader is the ability to listen from multiple vantage points. If you’re looking to increase your leadership effectiveness, expanding this capacity is essential.
Listening from multiple perspectives is a skill that builds on empathy, one of the key elements of emotional intelligence. Once honed, it can catapult your ability to lead with impact and influence.
It’s human nature to experience events and conversations through your own lens, which is inherently narrow. But with practice, you can develop the ability to listen with far greater bandwidth, allowing you to understand the perspective of the other person, the team and, sometimes, even the entire organization.
Are You Listening — Really?
Effective leadership requires active listening.
Most people think they’re pretty good listeners; as a result, it’s one of the least nurtured competencies. Yet listening is a complex and nuanced skill. Regardless of where you fall on the listening bell curve, practice can make you an even better listener.
As you take stock of your listening capacity, try to develop an increased awareness around how you listen — and to how much you hear. When you listen to respond, you’re really only half listening. The other half of your energy is engaged in figuring out what to say.
… listening is a complex and nuanced skill
Your physiology can also provide insights. Once you become attuned, your body sends fairly reliable signals to let you know when something feels “off,” allowing you to read between the lines with greater acuity.
Whether you label it as intuition or a gut feeling, these red (or white) flags can serve you well, signaling that it’s appropriate to explore a comment or situation with greater depth.
How Listening From Multiple Perspectives Makes You a Better Leader
No workplace conversation takes place in a vacuum. Understanding others’ perspectives, needs and goals can significantly enhance your ability to gain clarity around context.
For starters, recognizing an individual’s thinking style allows you to listen from their vantage point, and to appreciate why they might be saying what they’re saying — in the way they’re saying it.
Second, listening from another’s perspective stops you from creating stories that may not be true.
Let’s say you’re in a meeting with the CFO, who tends to be guarded and analytical. She presents facts and figures in a structured, organized fashion. She has an innate need for accuracy and order that compels her to be prepared before she speaks.
If you’re a visionary leader who thrives on spontaneity and flexibility, you might be irritated by the deliberate — and seemingly slow — pace at with which she delivers information to you. You might assume that she doesn’t respect your time, or that she’s overly cautious.
Having an appreciation for her approach can help bridge the gap between your styles.
It can also help you communicate with her in a way that facilitates cooperation and results: She will likely respond well to requests that require a logical, orderly process, and be comfortable answering questions that incorporate an analysis of the situation. Rather than putting her on the spot or surprising her in a group setting, you might want to give her a heads-up before the next meeting.
On a larger scale, listening through the lens of a team or an entire organization will, similarly, help you understand its motivations, triggers and goals, thwarting political landmines.
More importantly, the capacity to listen through multiple perspectives allows you to facilitate decisions that not only align with the corporate culture, but that also serve the greater good.