It always amazes me how even the most talented athletes in the world still participate in the ritual known as spring training. The best Major League Baseball players show up every year and practice the fundamentals of their game: running, catching, pitching and throwing.
As business professionals, too often time is not given for practicing the fundamentals. Business professionals are caught in the dilemma of performing every day and relentlessly trying to win and stay ahead of the competition.
This month will be an opportunity for business professionals to participate in Coach Pete’s spring training around business fundamentals. This week we’ll talk about listening and in the next few weeks we’ll be talking about giving and receiving feedback and creating clear requests that lead to more accountability on your business team.
Listening is one of the most critical, yet poorly executed communication skills.
Having the opportunity to work with high-level business professionals for the past 20 years, I get to see communication in action. I also get to see how downright pitiful so many of us are at listening.
Think of listening as a gift you give to the other person.
I personally believe relationships are at the core of strong teams and business success. Nothing disappoints and angers someone more than not being heard or having a boss or colleague who’s pretending to listen but is really multi-tasking or just going through the motions.
When you have an opportunity to listen to someone in your life, stop and take a moment and think of it as a gift you’re giving the other person. Remember when you give a gift it is simply for the pleasure of giving; it isn’t an exchange for something that you expect in return. Simply give the gift of listening — it will do your heart well and it will help build stronger relationships.
Learn to stop and be really present as you listen.
This is another skill that takes practice. Once you decide to get better at listening, the first thing you need to do is to stay aware and realize when the moment is in front of you to actually stop, get present and be prepared to listen. It’s a muscle you need to learn to build.
That means looking away from your computer screen, getting your phone out of reach and really being available. I attended a brain conference recently and the brain scientists have proven that if your mobile device is even within reach it it causes a significant decrease in your ability to pay attention and comprehend.
I can’t tell you how many senior leaders I work with who tell me that their boss is often multitasking while they’re in group or one-on-one meetings and how much that behavior has a negative impact on them. Stop it now!
Learn to mirror back what you’ve heard for understanding.
Again, a really simple technique we all know but very few practice. Simply repeat back what you think you heard to the person speaking and you’ll be amazed how many times you may have missed a point or misinterpreted what was said. Practice mirroring back often.
Realize acknowledgement is helpful and does not mean that you’ve agreed with what was said.
It’s a really helpful skill to just be able to say to someone, “I can see how upset that’s made you,” or “I can see what an impact that’s had on you.” That doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with the interpretation that they made. It also doesn’t mean that you’re not being truthful. It simply means that you’re practicing acknowledging what the other person is expressing or what feelings they’re going through.
Learn to acknowledge what the other person is thinking and feeling is legitimate.
There are many viewpoints that I hear on a daily basis that I do not agree with and sometimes have a hard time understanding how people have come up with that perspective. It’s still an important skill to be able to hold their viewpoint as legitimate because it’s their viewpoint and their view of the world. Just think what would happen to the world if we could all get better at this skill!
When you become a better listener, relationships strengthen, minds open and creativity can take hold.
As we become better listeners people really appreciate being heard and in turn often times can start to listen to you in a different way. When you begin to become a better listener with each other, new ways of looking at things can emerge. Also, we can discover new ways of solving problems in which we all have a common interest.
Coaches challenge: pick two people specifically with whom you want to become a better listener and start doing it this week.
The foundation of my work is about a process called deliberate practice. Deliberate practice has been proven to be the way that people become the very best at performing a skill. My challenge to you this week is to stretch yourself and pick two people with whom you have a hard time listening and build the skill of listening.
I hope you’ll come back again over the next several weeks as we practice giving and receiving feedback and finding our leadership voice.
Pete Walsh is a demanding, courageous and playful Master Certified Coach in Phoenix, Arizona, and the founder of Peak Workout Business Coaching and the Family Business Performance Center. Check out Coach Pete’s free tools: the Family Business Landmine Detection Map and the Family Business Survival Kit.