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“The single most significant strategic strength an organization can have is a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization.” These are strong words from Tom Peters, and they are right on target.
Listening is an organization’s most critical capability whether we are trying to deepen customer relationships, engage employees, improve team performance, resolve conflict or lead organization change.
But it’s more than just listening to the words people say. That’s easy.
To become an effective listener we must go beyond literal content and learn to hear the intent, the emotions and the deeper meaning others are trying to communicate.
Strategic listening is about empathy.
Empathy is the ability to know how another person feels, or the ability to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” It goes beyond an ability to understand the situation of another. Empathy is the ability to “feel” the situation of others. That’s when real understanding occurs.
Empathic understanding, however, carries with it a risk. When we open ourselves up to deeply understanding others, we risk being influenced by them. Our opinions may change and our agendas may evolve.
Good heavens! That’s a problem when we are trying to drive hard to meet deadlines and budgets.
But here’s the risk of not listening. If we enter a situation with only the desire to make our point, then we will never have a the buy in required to accomplish our objectives. We may get our way in the short term, but over long term achieving our goals will prove difficult.
When we push our product, customers don’t buy. When we stop engaging our employees, they have lower productivity or they change jobs. When we rush through the implementation of a new technology, our organizations don’t use it.
We have to be influenced in order to influence. We have to broaden our perceptions if we want to broaden the perceptions of others.
Listening with empathy not only helps our understanding of others, it creates the relationship magic that will open them up to understanding us.
When leading change, these are the two critical pieces. We listen to learn how change will impact others and how to connect change to what’s most important to them. And we listen to create an environment where others feel understood, accepted and emotionally at ease. That’s when they become open to listening to us.