We all know there is a difference between listening and hearing. According to the University of Minnesota at Duluth, “hearing is simply perceiving sound around you.” Hearing simply happens with no conscious effort on our part. Listening on the other hand is a choice. It is a conscious decision we make to concentrate so “that our brain processes meaning from words and sentences.”
That it does.
For leaders, not knowing the difference between listening and hearing can be detrimental to their team’s success. They may hear what’s going on around them, but if they choose not to really listen to it, they and their team will not be able to succeed long term.
Some leaders even intentionally choose not to listen. The figure if they don’t listen then the problems will just go away. This simply isn’t the case. When it comes to leadership, ignorance is not bliss.
So what does happen when leaders really listen? What might they learn? Here are a few specific items leaders might uncover if they be deliberate about listening.
1. What’s working and what isn’t. There are processes that are broken in your organization. Then there are others that work like a charm. Your employees know which are working and which are not. If you truly listen you’ll know this too.
2. Morale check. The talk of employee engagement has been all the rage for years now. We have surveys and software that tell us if our employees are happy or not. While all of those things are great, they may not be necessary. Sometimes just tuning into what employees are saying and truly listening will tell you how morale really is.
3. Customer feedback. Similar to number 2, your employees typically know better than anyone else what customers are saying. Listen to your employees and you’ll be listening to your customers.
4. Innovation. Your employees may astound you with the great ideas they have if you just listen. They may come up with things you have never thought of or may figure out a way to do something different that would make it more effective and efficient.
The coolest thing about really listening is that it is a very easy tactic to employ. There is no prep work to be done. You just decide to start listening and then be deliberate about it. Easy as that.
You can certainly put together more formal situations that allow you to listen such as focus groups or employee surveys, but the easiest way to start listening is to just do it. Listen in the break room. Pay attention to the chatter as you walk down the hall. Hang out in the smoking area. Seriously, early in my career I learned that if I wanted any of the gossip that mattered, I would get it in the smoking area. Ask questions of your employees and then really stop and listen to their answers.
Companies across the globe are looking for ways to better connect with employees. They spend thousands on employee engagement tools or parties to try to make their employees happy. If those same leaders would just stop and truly listen to what employees are saying they might be suprised at what they hear. They might learn something that can have a significant impact on their business for the positive.
Are you listening or simply hearing?