Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Are You Listening?

Do you want to be an empowering leader and colleague?  Then I suggest you monitor how you listen to others.  Notice I am saying “how” you listen, not “how well.”

There are two general categories of how you can listen to people.  You can “listen to respond” or “listen to understand.”

When you “listen to respond,” it is like you are in a debate.  You listen for the flaws in the other person’s ideas or a potential weakness that you can exploit to show that you are right and they are wrong.  A person who “listens to respond” is not really interested in what the other person cares about or in what they have to say.  They are interested in arguing their point and being right.

When you “listen to understand,” you sincerely want to hear the other person’s ideas.  You care about them and what they have to say.  You listen for something new, different, and/or better than what you had thought of on your own.  You want to understand them.  Once they have shared their thoughts with you, you may well follow-up with some questions to clarify and deepen your understanding of what they were saying.  This doesn’t mean that you need to agree with their ideas or perspectives; you are just making sure you “get them.”  You are interested in learning and deepening your understanding of the topic being discussed.

“Listening to understand” is the kind of listening that is the cornerstone of transformational leadership.  This is the kind of leadership that can transform organizations and communities, as explained by James MacGregor Burns in his book “Leadership.”  Better ideas are generated in this type of dialogue and people develop deeper relationships with one another in the process.  They each feel empowered and more committed to the cause they are serving.

One more thing – you can’t fake “listening to understand” any more than you can fake any kind of sincerity.  If you don’t legitimately care what the other person has to say then your responses will just sound like karaoke sincerity. 

We all want to be heard!  Pay extra attention to how you listen today and see if it makes a difference.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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