Shirley Wardell is a Leadership Foundation associate, and she works on the Research Team and Future Leader’s programmes. This is the second in a series of blog posts, in which Shirley will be sharing insights from the results of a survey on the participants of the 50 Research Team Leadership programmes that have taken place throughout higher education over the past 8 years. Shirley has been a ‘Thinking Environment ®’ coach and consultant since 1997.
When David Faraday carefully collected views on listening from around 400 participants on our Research Team Leader’s course, we discovered that feeling ‘appreciated’ took 10th place in the top 10 ways people feel when someone listens to them really well. The findings of the Ken Blanchard Companies supports this view and the encourage leaders to listen far more than they speak:
‘Find out what is in the hearts and minds of your people. Ask for their suggestions and opinions on their work.’
The Research Leaders on our courses tell us that sometimes, when they have something to say, they are worried about taking up their boss’s time. They say that they fear that their boss is too busy to listen to them. They may feel their views are not important and that maybe their ideas are not very good. I find it comforting that ‘just listening’ with a clear mind and a lack of distractions, can dispel some of the fears that are felt by your more thoughtful team members.
What is the listening like that dispels fears and creates a sense of appreciation for the person speaking? Nancy Kline describes it like this:
‘Attention: listening with palpable respect, and genuine interest, and without interruption.’
The lack of interruption here is key and it includes avoiding interrupting with our busy minds. Minds that are working hard communicate just that on our impatient, hurried faces. Five minutes of profound listening takes the same amount of time as five minutes of distracted listening, but is way more effective. It is important for leaders to get really good at listening.
What happens in the mind of the brilliant listener? To me the listener’s mind is open and calm, there is a sense of fascination in the speaker’s way of thinking and a belief that they will find a way forward. The great listener is not mentally solving the problem for the speaker; judging the quality of the thinking or planning lunch. The listener is able create a bubble of calm in a busy world which is an act of appreciation in itself.
Having colleagues that feel appreciated makes a leader’s life a lot easier. People who feel appreciated, like their jobs more, make better decisions and are prepared to do more in order to succeed. When people feel they are appreciated they regard the work environment as supportive and people who work in such environments are ill less often and are less likely to suffer from stress. In an encouraging work place stressful work is regarded as more achievable.
If leaders listen they are likely to create a culture of listening in their teams and that means that support and appreciation comes from other team members as well as from the leader. Shelley E. Taylor suggests that very small interventions in social support go a long way towards fostering a supportive work environment. What can you do to create a culture of listening in your team?