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.