“Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” This often-referenced quote by Sir Richard Branson sums up what we heard from an even wiser source: mom.
The biggest mistake many leaders make is that they talk too much. It seems like a minor criticism, but it can have a significant impact on an organization.
Leaders often think that because of their role that they must have all the answers. But, as we’re now seeing with the current coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) outbreak, many organizations are learning their leaders don’t have all the answers. So how does listening help here?
Consider what Ernest Hemingway once said: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
Truer words may never have been spoken, and the solution is simple: Listen. It’s basically the first lesson we learn in life: It’s better to listen than it is to talk.
The good news is we control the ability to remedy the problem... and we want to fix it. In our current reality, COVID-19 is forcing HR and IT executives in particular but other corporate leaders as well to listen to their employees who are now dealing with new challenges, frustrations, and fears.
Why Don’t We Listen?
I’m convinced the root of the problem is an inability to listen. But why is there such a problem?
I see a few reasons. One is the pace of the workplace today. We’re operating so quickly, we often don’t have time to listen to competing points of view.
Another centers on insecurity. Too often, people in leadership roles lack confidence in their abilities, and they compensate by shooting down others’ ideas.
But, it also boils down to the idea that leaders are stuck in their own routines — or their egos. Too often successful people think they know best, and perhaps they’re too prideful to rely on the perspectives of those around them.
A Widespread Problem
The idea that we don’t collectively listen is a widespread problem.
Sadly, only 13% of workers in the U.S. “strongly agree” their organization’s leadership communicates effectively, according to Gallup
. Right now, employees need leaders who are clearly and confidently communicating about changes and expectations to try and maintain some level of normalcy.
“Often, when we tell executives that their employees want better communication, the actions they take in response tend to include more presentations, more emails, more internal memos, more town halls, more messaging,” Gallup wrote.
But more talking and less listening does nothing to fix the problem. In fact, talking at employees — whether it comes in the form of an email or a memo — will work only to alienate them further. Instead, the goal should be to allow them to have a voice in the direction of an organization.
Giving them a vested interest offers meaning to their efforts.
An Easy Fix
Fortunately, leaders who have fallen into the old traps have the power to change — and if not with HR guidance, on their own. It just requires a willingness to make a change, which could easily be a forcing function from the current global pandemic facing all organizations.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. But, a few tried-and-true strategies include listening sessions and one-on-one check-ins, which can be done virtually in an era of required social distancing.
However, during these sessions, managers mustn’t be the one doing all the talking. They need to empower their team members to offer solutions and push for necessary change.
Of course, by opening the door to feedback, leaders must be willing to act on what they hear and make the employees’ perspective count. Otherwise, it’ll be nothing more than a hollow exercise in futility.
Reap the Rewards
The real benefit of listening is the quality of work empowered employees deliver. Employees who believe they have a voice in an organization want to go the extra mile to provide a product that is better. And, empowered and engaged employees are ones an organization can more easily retain.
A survey from Salesforce found
employees who believe their voice is heard are 4.6 times “more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.” In a world where leaders are judged on their ability to deliver against ever-increasing expectations, an increase of 4.6 times is a game-changer.
This begs a simple question: To the managers in organizations who aren’t listing to their teams, why? If it seems like it’s more effort than it’s worth, you’re doing it wrong.
Listening to the team makes a manager’s job easier, not more challenging, both today and in the long run. The leader doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — the loudest voice in the room. If a leader feels that obligation, he or she has the wrong team in place.
Are you ready to listen as this crisis continues to reshape the work experience? Just think how proud your mom would be.