I have found that learning how to listen is a bit of a journey. What I mean is that to really listen, so that chattering in my head goes quiet, that takes effort to achieve. Frankly, it is a journey in that it takes time to learn, involves trial and error, risk and discomfort.
Take me and my lesson with listening. Nice and easy to give a solution, job done, tick in the box, a pat on the back, lovely, marvellous, job well done.
Not so much…
The world we live in is a complex one and involves a lot of grey. When my nice and tidy solutions stopped working (and they did), I realised I had to change and that journey put listening and humility in the front seat. Period.
However, once I experienced and understood the value of listening, I was willing to give it far more attention and persevere on that journey, because what I gained significantly outweighed the disconnect that I (and you) can tolerate as normal.
The beauty of being heard is that it goes beyond our expectations, connecting us more deeply with other people, giving us something which is a bit more tangible, hints at understanding and authenticity, some of the vital ingredients which enable engagement, creativity and ultimately high performance.
I started to notice this pattern in my work facilitating high performance behaviours and cultures. No matter how diverse the team, no matter what the mix of cultures, race, gender or religious background. No matter whether they are based in London, Bucharest or Dubai.
Something changes for folk when they notice they are being heard. And unless there are deeper unresolved issues (another blog topic) they start to give the same back. They start to really hear each other.
So, around now the sceptics are starting to yawn and mutter something about HR soft and fluffy nonsense, followed swiftly by muffled ‘show me the numbers’ or ‘what’s the bottom line’.
But that is the point. What I observe is that when people, especially those in teams, notice and feel they are being heard, they start to behave differently. They start to trust.
And when people in a team start to trust each other, you have the foundations of high performance and most importantly, the foundation of innovation.
Why, because when people feel heard, they are willing to trust and most importantly, willing to risk sharing their ideas. All because they feel heard.
‘Show me the money’, I hear someone mutter. All right, settle down in the back seats. How about a small case study as an example?
I worked with a senior leadership team who ran into several unforeseen issues with their biggest client, the one who just happened to provide over 50% of their annual revenue. To lose that amount of revenue would be catastrophic to any business.
So, the leadership team realising they were stuck agreed to ask their teams without distinction, what ideas they had. The resulting offsite posed several business-critical questions and as one team, using a straightforward process, arrived at many, many ideas to resolve the issues.
I never forget the CEO of that business standing up and saying to the entire team that the leadership team was flat out of ideas to resolve the situation. They continued by saying the ideas that had been presented by the wider team and solved the issues were both excellent and deeply impressive. Lastly, with agreement and nods from the leadership team, the CEO emphasized that the leadership team would never have come up with those ideas.
That business achieved double digit growth that year. Not everything was perfect, but a lot was better simply for just listening.
A lot of revenue for one!
So, figuring out how to really listen to each other is now business critical.
Because when you have ideas coming from people, especially those in a group, ideas tend to start sparking off each other. In doing so, they continue to build and evolve and finally land as something original and innovative.
When you have that in a team then you have something that gives you the edge.
You will more than likely also have commitment, accountability and discretionary effort.
The gold dust of high performance, innovation and sustaining bottom line growth.
Here is the rub though.
To achieve this you must be willing to change and do the hard graft. Feel the burn of being outside your comfort zone, that sense of not knowing and being okay with that. Of learning to be comfortable with your discomfort.
It requires something very different to what has been done before. But from what I have seen, those leaders that are willing to go there with their teams, experience immense value and enable a real bottom line impact.
But you cannot have the one without the other.
But that is the journey which takes time and effort. It takes risk and it takes trust.