Lawyers and legal professionals get paid to advise clients. Advising is a pro-active sport. It involves counseling, explaining and giving direction. So when it comes to managing projects and others, our natural tendency is to advise and direct. Unfortunately, it can result in lower performance and work quality.
The reason is simple: the people doing the work want to feel engaged and invested in their efforts. Acting only as a cog in a wheel doesn’t produce that feeling. Sure, they will do the work assigned, but the question is whether they’ll do it as well and as quickly as possible.
Good Listening Skills Drive Performance
The easiest way to drive performance via engagement and effort takes no effort at all. Well, not exactly no effort, but less than we’re accustomed to exerting. Developing good listening skills allows team members or stakeholders to become engaged personally with the work. It can also help us gain a broader understanding of our team members and our projects
Why is Listening Such a Magical Skill?
The simplest way explain the power of listening is to define it’s three levels:
- Level One. This is basic listening, the kind that’s instinctual. We spend most of our time at this level listening to things and determining their significance to us. It’s completely self-absorbed. For example, when we hear a noise, we thinkg : “How does that sound affect me?” “Is it friend or foe?”
- Level Two. This is inquisitive listening. The focus is directed outward, but the level of interest is only at the fact-gathering level. We are seeking to understand something the speaker is saying. We may say: “Then what happened?” or “After that, what do I do next?”
- Level Three. This is empathetic listening. This type of listening is directed at the speaker, but instead of just wanting to learn something, we are experiencing what they are describing. We are engaged with them, seeing what they’re describing and feeling what they are or were feeling. We may say: “That must have been exciting!” “You have certainly struggled to achieve that result.” Delivering feedback that confirms we are listening with empathy naturally aligns the speaker with us.
We (all) instinctively spend most of our day in Level One listening. It’s hard for people to engage with us because we’re self-focused. Level Two may focus on the speaker, but we view the speaker as a means to an end – not engaging either. Level Three listening is where engagement truly occurs.
When the listener is focused on the speaker and feeding back the information he or she is receiving, the connection loop closes. The more feedback that comes back to the speaker, the more engaged the speaker becomes with the listener. The more engaged the speaker becomes, the more connected he or she is to the listener, the team, the project, and the organization.
The end result is better work product and more responsive participants.
Listening is Easy if You Try Real Hard
Learning to listen takes time. It takes self-awareness. It takes restraint. The best way to start listening better is to ask lots of questions and let silences linger. It’s amazing how people can rise to the task when they are engaged!