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Surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say?

Does your organisation have a culture of listening? I mean, really listening. Not just hearing stuff? Actually listening. Soaking it up. Understanding. Conversing. Respecting.

When I left school, I joined the armed forces where I worked as a Radio Operator for around seven years. One of my day to day responsibilities was decoding messages received on a voice radio from other ships and units and turning them into plain language to verbally pass to the officers in command of the ship. The messages were important. They gave information to make important decisions. On many occasions getting this right was literally a case of life or death with seconds seperating the two.

In training for this role, the importance of ‘being heard’ was drilled into me. There was no point being meek and timid with a voice that would fail to carry over the hustle and bustle and noisy engines. I had to shout communication, persisting until it was heard.

What surprised me though when I left training, was the various cultures of the variety of ships I worked on. On some it felt that my zero-level seniority meant that I was easily ignored. I remember some occasions of this happening with disastrous and expensive consequences. But on most, there was a level of respect for the task I had in hand and the importance of the information that I was conveying. The fact I didn’t carry stripes didn’t matter. There was a culture that made sure my voice was heard and the information I shared was acted upon.

Throughout my career in civilian life I’ve fortunately not had to shout my feedback. I haven't found myself in those life or death situations. Even so, I've had feedback to share which is important and where I've felt there are consequences for not listening to it. I have found differences though in how good the leaders and people are in different organisations with the idea of listening. According to Harvard Business Review, ‘Listening is an overlooked leadership tool’. In some places I’ve worked, I’ve seen a strong presence of a listening mindset where people are heard regardless of seniority, position or experience. In those organisations leaders go out of their way to be present and listen. They have strategies, initiatives and a genuine desire to encourage dialogue. This is then mirrored out all other levels where listening and collaboration seem to happen because it’s seen to be a the way things are done around here.

In contrast I’ve worked in other organisations that operate in ways where only the select few have a voice.  Everyone else, is expected to get back in their box and to quote a naval phrase ‘pipe down’.

It was once said by a guy called Andy Stanley, ‘Leaders who refuse to listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing significant to say’.

I believe that. Do you?

What cultures have you worked in when it comes to listening?

I’m interested to know.

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Comments

  • I spotted it too and liked it. I've been fortunate to work for some incredible bosses, not just managers but leaders. 

    One of the things that made their listening impactful was that it didn't matter who you were, at what level you worked within the business, people from "outside" or if you were a random person in the street for a chance conversation. They would consider anybody's opinion or advise without prejudice.

    • Without prejudice! That's the one... just there. Open ears, unbiased and truly and actively listening.

      Any thoughts on the 'mindset' that leaders must have to demonstrate that quality?

      • I like you calling it a listening mindset. I hadn't thought of naming it before, but perhaps 'listening with intent'? You can listen all you like if you have not intent of reflecting on what you'll hear. If you've already made up your mind about the subject...

  • Valued and respected. In my opinion (24 years military) if your people feel these two things they will go beyond most limits to achieve goals. There are a plethora of other dits, sayings, buzzwords, but these two things will reap rewards like no other. 

    One piece to that is listening to your people, every opinion is valid to it's owner. No one person has the monopoly on good ideas. 

    • I thing those words are on the money Will. Value and respect.

      I agree that no one person has the monopoly on good ideas. Do you think in some situations it can unwittingly happen though where one or two people do indeed have a monopoly on good ideas? I'd be interested in your thoughts on how leaders can spot and dilute those situations.

      • Completely, in bureaucratic, hierarchical organisations or ones with a particular brand of toxic leadership this can happen, either by accident or design. Power/responsibility can give people a false sense of their own ability, there are a plethora of reasons why people may fall into this trap.

        Identifying it shouldn't be a problem if you take the time to get to know your people, and those around you, when you have a good handle on them you'll better understand their motivations behind heir actions, some shout load because they're passionate and want to help achieve the best, others because they're trying to impress.

        The challenge depends on where you sit in the organisation, if you have power to wield then it is absolutely incumbent on you to hold those 'noisy' ones back slightly to allow others a platform to put their ideas forward. But to do so without predujice and in a wholly respectful way. 


        Then there's yourself, always have that introspective moment, if there's any doubt, throw it out there and invite opinions, sometimes it's a good way of fault checking your thought process. The danger there is that things can become more like a Chinese parliament, which may be appropriate, but as a leader, you lead, so knowing the time and place for it is key.

        Also, the way in which you invite people for ideas, it's not to say you don't have all the ideas and you're a weak leader, it's about making sure that your team understand you value them and their range of experiences and musings and that before committing to a course of action that will affect you all, you want to hear how they would do it.

        This can also be a key for leadership/management development, how do you develop leaders if you don't give them the opportuity to demonstrate what they're made of?

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