Executive Presence : Assessment, Coaching, Training

Why Do Star Leaders Speak Less and Listen More?

Mindful listening skills make a critical difference in your leadership development, but few are able to cultivate them. Here’s a star leader’s guide to better listening.

In 2009, Domino’s Pizza did something few companies would have the courage to do. Faced with enormous criticism and negative feedback, they started The Pizza Turnaround initiative where they posted their negative feedback and the employee’s reactions to it. They heard people talk about how the “crust tastes like cardboard”, how “the sauce is devoid of flavour”, and admitted how difficult it was to listen to this. Nevertheless, Patrick Doyle, the then CEO made sure that the employees would really, really listen to all the feedback and instead of making minor adjustments actually try to reinvent how the pizza is made. They broke their egos, did not hide what was happening and just opened themselves to all the suggestions their customers had. By 2016, Domino’s stock price went up from $8.76 to almost $160.

We live in a world that is more information-driven than anything else, and the knowledge one possesses is what determines how successful they will be. How much knowledge do you think you can gain if you’re always looking to make a point? Talking is about giving away information. And if you don’t practice listening first, there will soon be a time when you won’t have anything left to say – you’d have already spent all the information you had.

So how do you re-realize the value of listening? How do you bring it into your daily practice when most of what everything teaches is how to speak better?

Spending time Thinking more

Listening gives you time to think. It’s because we believe that we need to quickly contribute before we lose out on the opportunity to do so that we do not get to spend enough time thinking about what we are going to say. We may say something in a way not intended in the manner it was received or not even do justice to our own thoughts. When you are listening, you can build your perspective and actually come upon what might be the correct response that would deliver more impact. Instead of this, we choose to start talking when it occurs to us, flail around with half-baked sentences and reduce the interactivity of the conversation.

Make the Conversation more Fulfilling

I have seen many executive leaders who are so keen on giving their two cents in a discussion, that instead of flying high, their eagerness always lands them flat on the ground. They just don’t listen. And because of that, their opinion on the subject is always based on what they assume the other person’s saying. When you have heard part of what another person has said and you start responding, you are responding to your perception of what they have said. This perception is not necessarily aligned with the reality and nuances of their opinions. The quality of a debate or discussion can skyrocket if you give the other person the benefit of completely explaining themselves so that you can be sure about what they mean and truly see it from their perspective. Those with executive presence are confident, well-prepared, and can clearly articulate their ideas.

Inject Weight in What You Have to Say

Being in an executive position, you must be required to give a little speech, or just say a few words to your team. And do you know what makes a speech interesting? A witty anecdote, or an interesting incident, or a fascinating story. But what happens if you’re only speaking, without taking a break? People get desensitized to what you have got to say. Even if you are asking relevant questions, saying information that would change their lives, and spouting rhetoric that would spur them into action, it’s just psychologically unsustainable to give one person that much attention in a conversation or social interaction. By spreading what you have to say around the time you have and making it more involving for your team, you make sure that they actually listen to you as well! 

Impact on Leadership

Being a good leader is first and foremost about being an emotionally intelligent person. This means that listening as a leader extends beyond keeping quiet, even though keeping quiet and letting the other person talk is definitely the “how” of doing it. The real activity that leaders engage in is sensing that there is something to be said, and then being able to extract it from your team. It’s a continuous process of understanding what is said and then exploring it further by asking the right questions. 

Research conducted across more than 200 participants shows that the more leaders engage in these activities, the more it creates positive working conditions for employees to flourish and decreases the psychological stress they incur from the job. Not only that, research conducted across almost 250 participants shows that the more leaders listen, the more employees seek feedback, interpret it properly and use it to boost their self-efficacy.

Do you wish to impress your brilliant opinions on everyone at the cost of deterring the growth of your teammates and losing out on what they have to offer?

Star Mindset

The biggest way one gains in, by listening more, is that whenever you speak – you can be sure that people will listen. There are two reasons to say this. First, it’s the simple law of reciprocation. When people see that you let them speak, they’ll eventually extend the courtesy to you. Second, if you keep sharing your opinions all the time, even without having anyone ask you for them, you’ll keep diminishing your chances of someone actually trying to seek your opinions. Also, your point of view gains weight in direct proportion to how occasionally and succinctly you speak.

Do you want to capture the complete essence of what others say and make your words carry more weight by speaking less and listening more?

3 Immediate Actionable Steps

  1. When your teammates are sharing their ideas, instead of forming a response or a criticism, ask follow up questions that allow them to explore their own ideas more. These questions can include “how do we do this?” if they suggest an action or “what will be the implications of it?” if they discuss a concept.
  2. Keep a track of how much time you are talking and the other person is talking in a conversation, and actively try to make it in favour of the other person. If you say imagine 5 sentences, then don’t speak again till they have said 10. 
  3. Choose to ask at least 2 people an unsolicited question about how they feel or what work they are doing in a day. It shouldn’t sound interrogative, but rather curious.

Summary

A Star Leader knows that when you listen more than you talk, you make people feel good about themselves; and they in turn listen more closely when it’s your turn to speak your mind. #BeTheStar

Comments

Do you think talking in terms of failures and success undermines the spirit of a team as well as leadership? I love learning from my readers. Please do share your thoughts!

References

  1. New Domino’s Pizza – Oh Yes We Did. (2009). Pizzaturnaround.com. http://pizzaturnaround.com/
  2. Taylor, B. (2016, November 28). How Domino’s Pizza Reinvented Itself. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/11/how-dominos-pizza-reinvented-itself
  3. Mineyama, S., Tsutsumi, A., Takao, S., Nishiuchi, K., & Kawakami, N. (2007). Supervisors’ Attitudes and Skills for Active Listening with Regard to Working Conditions and Psychological Stress Reactions among Subordinate Workers. Journal of Occupational Health, 49(2), 81–87. https://doi.org/10.1539/joh.49.81
  4. Qian, J., Wang, B., Song, B., Li, X., Wu, L., & Fang, Y. (2017). It Takes Two to Tango: the Impact of Leaders’ Listening Behavior on Employees’ Feedback Seeking. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9656-y

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