Building authentic connections is an important skill for every leader, and one of the easiest ways to do so is through active listening. In Episode #41 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we explore how leaders can use listening to show that they value their people.
To learn more about a leader’s toolkit, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.
Read the transcript below:
Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.
I’m Chris Goede, vice president of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Today’s topic is titled “Listening: A Leader’s Tool for Showing Value to People”. Now, Perry, when I saw the title of this topic, I thought, well, I don’t need to be here today, right? I don’t. I was a leader for you. That’s right. As a leader, we all think we’re better than we are. That’s true. So hang with us. I showed up today, I’m going to learn something. We’re going to give some thoughts to this additional tool that you need to make sure you’re continuing to work on. So, Perry, let’s talk about this. Tell me, how do you see listening as a tool? And I will say, I think that everybody should pull over and be listening to this with a pen and paper. Because we all need help.
I think we actually give them some examples in our life. We see a nugget here or there, somebody that demonstrates this and in some really great way. So hats off to them. But for the majority of us, this is a challenge because of the busy world. I say tool because it’s really something, I think it is in your toolkit and few correctly use this tool. It will take leading to the next level, employee engagement to the next level, employee retention to the next level. It’s an area I personally, and as you’ve already confessed, we both have to work on, because if you’re married more than an hour, you know that my wife pointed this out, you’re not listening. And she made me aware of that, but then I took it to work and started looking, you know, I think I do the same thing.
And with work. So, I also noticed that the higher I went in the organization, the more success I had, the more of a problem it was. Yeah, it was, I don’t know how you’ve seen that. I think my wife would agree with your wife and give a huge amen to that. I was just thinking about someone you mentioned that not only is this a skill that we need to work on and develop to use in our organization with our people, then I challenge you to use it at home and in your personal life as well. Because I have had conversations where they’ve gone something like this. You would not have watched the TV while someone was talking to you if they were in your office or if you’re with a client. So can you listen to me?
I say that just to say, hey, being vulnerable with you, like what we do every day as leaders inside an organization, we should be doing. If not, then at home, and sometimes I get lazy. And I’m like, you know what, I may be working on listening here, but I probably should really be working on it at home. I just had one the other day. I was a weekend cookout, have friends over and the wife of my friend was talking to me and I just had my cell phone in my hand and she just said, well, I guess there’s something more important on that screen. Ouch. And I bet she’s exactly right. Why don’t I practice it? Even in the down moments, what seems like a down moment. And it’s not, not at all.
I think my wife would agree with that. Coach John Wooden has this great quote. He says, it’s very easy to get comfortable in a position of leadership, to believe that you’ve got all the answers, especially when you begin to enjoy some success. It is so easy to stop listening and learning and this is a skill that can be developed and it’s something that all of us, no matter if naturally you are a good listener, it’s something that we all need to continue to develop and improve. So let’s talk about some tips about what this looks like to help our audience. And I think we’ve kind of hit it a little bit already so we can move quickly past this. But if you’re not a little bit self-aware of your struggle with this and just admitting that I need to practice it, I need to.
And then we used the word active listening and probably can talk a little bit more about what that means. But when my wife said it, you know, my first reaction was to push back. No, I’m listening. Well you may be listening, but you’re not hearing me might be the words, and thinking, wow, she is really right, and I need to be more attentive, especially in this fast paced, busy world. Just be self-aware that someone is trying to communicate with me. Am I giving them the respect due through active listening to them and just being aware of it. Well listen there is no greater way to tell somebody you value them and to be fully engaged in conversation. And so we need to be intentional about becoming better listeners. And I think in today’s day and age with everything that we have access to and in our hands and with computers and just the fast pace, we have so many distractions.
Like I mentioned, I do it at home, whether I’m on Twitter or whether I’m on a cell phone, whether I’m watching Sports Center, whatever it might be, and it’s all in the background. I need to be better at it in the organization with my team and personally at being a better listener. I mentioned this maybe a couple of podcasts ago and it’s just kind of stuck with me. This gentleman, the CFO for Sewell down in Odessa. And it just, the fact that every time somebody walks into his office, he shuts his laptop and then moves his cell phone. I’m like, what do you mean? Then you power your computer down, then you’ve got to power it back up. And he’s just fully engaged, and people feel so valued and he’s an incredible listener. I think there are some learned behaviors there. I thought, wow, nobody even said a word yet, and he’s communicated. Without a word being spoken. Distractions are huge and obviously I’m sure everybody would agree that you have to really think about what you’re saying. I had a sign on my desk for years. I still have it, actually, it says, be here now. And I wish I could tattoo it on my palm of my hands. I can see it and say, what’s going on? Are you in present in the moment? But I actually went so far as in my early leadership life about setting my office up intentionally in a way that when people came in to see me, I couldn’t look out the door. I couldn’t look out the window. I had my desk to a wall and had turn around and face them. And this was really helping me to not be distracted when I’m looking at you, facing you, talking to you. And for me it was a little bit of something I called mastering the pause and it’s another tip that I would give– when people are talking, are you listening or reloading?
And I started thinking about that guy. You’re reloading. I’m reloading. I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next. What if I just mastered the pause? Because I noticed when people take a breath, I normally jump in. What if I mastered that pause and just let it rest for a moment? You know what happens almost 100% of the time when you don’t start talking, they start talking again. And that helps with the customers and the sales situation. I’m always wanting to let them know how smart I am. Now let me just not say anything. And then the customer starts talking again. And I’ve noticed, I don’t know if you have, but when the customer is talking, I almost always do better than when I’m talking.
What do they say in sales? Quit talking past the clothes. You’re already there. Let them talk and you quit talking. The other thing when we talk about kind of jumping in on a conversation, as soon as somebody takes a breath, the thing for me here is that when it’s being done to you, what do you think about that person? They’re waiting for that pause there, waiting to jump in. Like they have something to say, they have so much to say, finish my sentence for me. I can’t stand that when people do that, because what they’re telling you is that they’re really just not truly listening to you. And then it’s like, okay, so I know you were ready to jump in. Did you hear the last 30 seconds of what I said or were you just waiting for me to go? You know, and they jumped in. And we have to make sure that we slow down, maybe have that pause and make sure that we’re not jumping in. And if we have team members that are jumping in often help them with some triggers right to where they begin to understand that they’re not doing a really good job of listening. Well, it’s a great reminder right there that you can help your teammates as a leader, looking for those coaching feedback moments. Had a person that was one of these finish-my-sentences type. She was really smart her brain can process like 600 words a minute, but I, even being from the South, can only speak at a, you know, 150, maybe some gusts up to 75. She was already way ahead of what I’m going to say and interrupted me. I just brought it out in the conversation. I thought, I’m getting in trouble. She said, I know I do that. And I said, tell you what, if I just held up my hand when we’re talking, I won’t say anything. I’ll just hold my hand up and you’ll know when you did it.
And I thought this was going to go bad somehow, but she thanked me profusely. She said, nobody’s ever helped me really work through that and I thought that you can count on me. During sales calls, I would write on my notepad w-a-i-t: why am I talking? Just to remind myself to just speak less, listen more and really show how we started this podcast is that I’m willing to show value to you, that I’m listening, that you matter and what you have to say is important to me. And one of the things I noticed, I want to get your opinion on this, people taking notes while you’re talking, I guess there’s some good and bad to that, but what do you think about it?
Let me ask you this question. You have spoken around the world, speaker for IBM for us. You do a lot of keynotes when you’re speaking and working up to certain points and you want to deliver value and you see people light up on their face and then, in their seats, start taking notes. What’s that do for you?
It’s big. It gives you energy. You feel like you’re connecting with them, but you think, this is good. Let me give something else. Yeah, let me think about something else. And then the next one, maybe they don’t necessarily write it down and they start going to sleep. That’s another story. But yeah, I’m all for it. One of the things I love about John is that a lot of people don’t necessarily feel comfortable with John interviewing them about leadership or their journey or their story or how they lead. And one of the greatest things that he always does whenever he’s interviewing somebody, especially in front of an audience or even on a phone or a podcast is he’s taking notes. And what he does at the end of every interview is say, hey, let me just take a minute and tell you what I learned from you today. I love that. And here are three things that I learned from you today. And here’s a guy who has been in this space for a long time and yet he is not only learning and growing and pushing himself to stay engaged and take notes, but then whoever he’s interviewing, they walk off going, oh my gosh, I literally just helped John Maxwell with something. It was funny cause I was listening to an interview he did with Rachel Hollis the other day. She was like, wait a minute, why are you writing that down, John, like that made my day, and it just really engaged her.
I think it’s powerful. As long as you’re being authentic about it. One challenge I have that I just want to throw out to you is sometimes I do it and I do it on my phone. I think that’s what you didn’t want, I think that’s even different from the people sitting with an iPad and writing with a pen on an iPad. Because it looks like you’re taking notes when you have your phone. The challenge there is what am I communicating to you? What’s the first thing you think about when I’m on my phone? Texting or doing your email. So sometimes I’ll say, hey, you don’t mind if I take notes in my phone, do you. Other times I don’t. But then I become very conscious of it while I’m in the conversation and I always want them to know that I am taking notes either in Evernote or my notes section on my phone. Sometimes maybe it’s best not even to do it on your phone, just to make sure that there’s no gap between what your intention is behind taking notes and what is maybe their perception.
I get that. One of my 5 Levels coaching clients got his annual review. I said, let’s walk through that. What did you learn? And he said, well, I got dinged for always having my laptop out in a meeting. I said, why is your laptop out? He goes, I take profuse notes. I said, is it about the meeting? It’s not your grocery list, right? He goes, no, it’s about the meeting, but they think I’m doing email. So I said, what are you doing about that? He’s going to announce, like you said, would you mind if I take some notes on my laptop or find another way. Write it on paper, then go back and transpose.
He didn’t want to transpose it later, though. iPads are great and with the pencil is fantastic. That technology is really advanced. So, I love that idea, but make sure people know that you’re involved. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great that you’re paying attention, taking notes, but it’s bad if I think you’re writing your grocery list. Another little tip I had, I learned again from my wife. It was learning to repeat back to them to their satisfaction what you heard them say.
She would say something, and I would say, so what you’re saying is this right? She say, no, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Okay. Then say it again. But before I respond, and what do we normally do is we react to what people say I want. I want to change that reaction to a response, which is more thoughtful. There needs to be a gap. Mind the gap between whatever the stimulus was and what your response is. Then I just think, how do I bridge that gap. So Chris, what I hear you saying is this, is that true? You say, yeah. It’s pretty close, it isn’t not exact. Tell me again. Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Then I can respond. It raised my level of listening because I know in my own style I’m going to have to give it back to you, to your satisfaction that I heard what you said. It really raised my level of engagement with the team and that they knew I’m paying attention.
I’m totally for that. As long as you’re doing it authentically, right? Because if people do any type of research or look into active listening skills, that’s what everybody is taught to do. So what you said was, so as long as you do it in the most authentic way that you would do it and not just necessarily repeat those words and then say it, although that is communicating that to them, I think there’s a way that you can do it authentically. A lot of times what I try to do is, hey, let me tell you something you taught me in that conversation, is this right? And you just take it from what I heard you say too, this is what you told me, this story enlightened me from your perspective. I learned this today. Is that in alignment with what you’re trying to tell me?
And so having a conversation around that versus being maybe very robotic about how you come back. Because you know what I’m talking about, I mean the people that listen, what you’re saying was, and then you repeat it. Do it authentically. And the other thing I meant, I just want to make sure that if you’re doing a really good job listening, the first response is not to one-up what you just heard. I mean, we’ve talked to how many top-my-story people and I’m like, you know what? You may be listened to me because you just topped my story, but I don’t want to talk to you anymore because I don’t want to hear about that. And so that was the other side of it too, just to make sure that when we’re listening to people, if you have something that’s better or greater or a bigger example, if it’s not important or it’s detrimental to their relationship or your relationship or their life, just keep it to yourself.
Maybe tell it at a different time. I’m laughing because I have this example. There’s a family issue that came up like that because I travel globally a lot. And somebody would say, well, let me tell you about the coast of Georgia. We went to the coast this weekend and I said, coast, let me tell you about the Riviera in France. That’s a coast. I’m thinking, was that relevant? Was that necessary? Did I make them feel bigger or smaller? Did I help add to their story or take away from it? Did I think through the lineup with them? Dale Carnegie would slap me in the head for that. I’m thinking, yeah, that’s right. I’ve had to really work on that.
I think John has a great book that I would suggest to anybody that is a leader. It’s called “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions”. The ability to be a good listener starts with the ability to ask good questions. And that’s when you’re going to really get people to open up to you. And so really think about the questions. And then understand the listening part of it and the power of that. I think one of the greatest compliments you could ever receive as a leader is that if someone says these two things to you, they consistently listen. I think a lot of times we may consistently hear people, but we don’t really consistently listen. And I think if you can be consistent and you can become a great learner of what makes your team, your leaders, your vendors, and your customers feel like they are the most important thing to and around you, then I think that’ll be three things.
Just to leave you with an action step that may help you do this. I wrote down, slow down, just slow down. I know we’re all busy. Remember the example, shut the laptop, slow down and be attentive and relaxed. Stay focused on them. Eye contact matters. We’ve had conversations with people where you’re talking or maybe they’re talking and they’re just not even looking at you, right? And you’re like, are you really engaged here? And then obviously back to the old adage seek first to understand, and I think if you do those three things, you’ll have a mindset of becoming a better listener.
I love those reminders about active listening, eye contact, nodding your head, asking the question, asking for clarification, engaging the speaker not by topping their story, not by having a one upping them type of thing, but to really seek to understand what they’re speaking about just draws people to you. That drives up that level of engagement. It creates value inside that person, that man, he seemed like I had something important to say. Yeah, you do and everybody does. So great stuff. Chris, thanks for the reminder and just a reminder to you, our listeners, if you’d like to learn more about this topic or about the 5 Levels of Leadership, perhaps even bring a 5 Levels workshop to your organization, please go to JohnMaxwellCompany.com/podcast you can leave a comment for us. They’re a question if you have one. As always, we’re grateful for you following along. That’s it for today in the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.