In a recent evaluation, I was told I needed to improve my listening skills. I spent considerable time stewing over the criticism before I realized I needed to step back, detach and consider what effective listening looked like if I was going to make any meaningful change. After some research, I found some “simple but not easy” concepts: effective listening does not involve talking or thinking about what I am going to say next. It does involve me contributing a present and clear mindset plus an openness to wherever the conversation might lead. Now, I needed a chance to implement.
A few days later, a colleague showed up at my office when I was halfway through typing a critical email. She asked if I had a moment to talk, she walked in and sat down as I finished typing a sentence. As simple as it might seem, it finally occurred to me that I needed to take my hands off the computer keyboard and put them on my lap. I turned my attention fully to her, shut my mouth and listened with curiosity to what she wanted to discuss. The result was a meaningful conversation that helped to deepen our working relationship.
Leaders are expected to drive the progress of their team. I strive to stay organized under pressure in order get lots of work done. However, I realize now that effective listening requires a readiness to press pause. When someone comes to talk to you, physically disconnect from what you were in the middle of if you have to, and give them your full attention. They will trust approaching you, and you will accomplish more together.
This article is a direct result of my work in the League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders Program and was published January 29, 2018 on Echelon Front’s website as a contribution to their discussion forum Platoon Hut