Issue Number 16: Leadership – Stop, Look and Listen

How do you find the time to learn about others, especialIy if you have locked yourself into a task-focused way of leading? Just follow the example of this young seamstress and the guidance you learned as a child when crossing the street – stop, look and listen.

The first step is to stop what you are doing long enough to focus on others. In today’s world, multitasking has become the norm. We text while driving, email while talking on the phone, and work on pieces of several projects at the same time. Multitasking can be efficient and even diverting, but it often involves sacrificing focus. If you really want to get to know others, you need to pay attention to them.

Stopping what you are doing for a moment allows you to consider what the best use of your time is, and whether you are staying in your own lane.

You do not have to stop for hours at a time – just for the occasional moment. Get out of your office and walk around. Remove yourself from the problems occupying your mind and step outside yourself. Begin, or continue, a conversation with someone about a topic that has nothing to do with work. You have to use common sense in knowing what the boundaries are, but stopping what you are doing so you can focus on others is the first, and perhaps the most important, of the three steps. You will not reap the benefits of looking and listening if you are pre-occupied with your own agenda.

It is also an excellent way to let people know how important you feel they are, and a feeling of importance is something we are all seeking. Just remember – you cannot fake it. This approach will work wonders if you have a sincere interest in others, and it will not work at all if you do not.

Now that you have stopped focusing on yourself and your problems, the next step is to look at the way people behave toward you and each other. Watch the way they demonstrate comfort or discomfort, anxiety or calmness, confidence or uncertainty. Notice those who prefer listening to talking, or being dominant to being submissive. How do they carry themselves as they interact with each other? Who tends to be the center of attention? Who tends to remain on the sideline?

You can gain valuable insights into a person’s way of working with others by observing them during meetings. Although some are good at cloaking themselves in fake meeting behavior, other people just cannot help themselves. They will reveal their aggressive nature by trying to have their way at the expense of others, trying to avoid taking a stand by always playing devil’s advocate, or listening so intently to their own voice they cannot hear anyone else’s.

You will also notice people who try to work well with others in spite of these behaviors. They may break the tension with a humorous comment or simply rise above the games to mediate differences and pull people together.

The last step is to listen. Listen to stories people tell so you can hear how they view the world and their role in it. Do they consistently play the hero or the victim? Do they succeed by persistence or brilliance? Do they laugh at themselves or only at others?

Their stories will also offer clues into the way they think. Do they prefer logic or passion? Are their stories filled with facts or feeling?

Listening is one of the most important skills you can develop. Sometimes you may think you know what a person is going to say before she finishes the sentence. It is hard to avoid because you think faster than you speak, so you find yourself not really listening, but just waiting to be heard.

The next time you find yourself in this situation, try to remember the irritation you feel when you know the other person is just pretending to listen to you. Remember why you are part of that conversation in the first place, and, even if you think you know what the other person is going to say before she says it, use that time to learn more about how she expresses herself and what that tells you about her.

Finally, remember that the letters in the word “listen” also spell “silent.” It is a handy reminder that you cannot listen effectively if you are speaking – or waiting to speak.

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