Is this the “Secret Sauce” you have been looking for?
I can’t wait to have my next performance review. How many of us actually feel this way? Most of us, in reality, would rather find ourselves at the dentist, than to have an annual performance discussion, even if it was a smashing year.
I suppose I have been fortunate in having managers throughout my career who really cared not only about what they said, but how they delivered the message.
I have asked myself many times what the differentiator is when I leave a conversation feeling inspired and motivated compared with times when I would rather run for the hills.
I have found it all comes down to this: an ability to fully engage as a listener. Of course, this is much easier said than done, and that is one reason why being a great listener is elusive.
Why is listening so challenging?
Most of us think of listening in terms of hearing what the other person is saying. While behavioral skills are important, it doesn’t go far enough and lacks a whole-person approach.
Fully present leaders are aware of their tendencies and know how stress manifests in communication, for example. This type of leader can bring attention to his or her emotional state and uses moment by moment awareness to adjust despite feelings of anxiousness.
A powerful listener asks questions from a place of curiosity and is willing to be surprised. When leaders are open to unexpected information or a new perspective, and when they withhold judgement, they create space for a vibrant interaction.
As I reflect about someone who is unencumbered by preconditions, I think of the curiosity of a child. Children naturally desire to grow and learn; they seek and discover and cast aside the bows of failure. Children model what it means to engage in the world with a creative spirit.
I believe we make significant inroads in our leader journey when we can bring child-like curiosity to listening as adults. To aid in this path, I developed the Triple Loop Listening model and it serves as a blueprint for whole-person communication.
The model has three elements (noticing, suspending judgment, and generating possibilities) and can flex to any stage of conversation yet is successive in design.
- Noticing is about paying attention to both mind (thoughts, feelings) and body (awareness, emotions). During a coaching meeting, for example, are you aware when you feel unsure about something or unexpected tightness in your shoulders? How can you use this information to create a more relaxed and calm demeanor?
Antidote: Use your breath to anchor yourself and re-enter the listening zone.
- We are often our worse critic, especially when we think we do not measure up. Suspending judgment, whether toward ourselves or others opens space for creativity and problem solving.
Antidote: Respond with curiosity, ease expectations, and be surprised.
- Sometimes, we close down the channel for new ideas and the chance to improve an existing process. We limit possibilities. Whether out of fear or because we feel overly confident. How can we open channels and expand thinking?
Antidote: Ask questions that increase perspective-taking and balance detail.
Listening is an overlooked leadership quality. It is our role as leaders to coach, mentor, and guide team members and to provide direction. It is also okay to say “I don’t know” and encourage others to find the answers themselves. The person may feel a little frustrated initially with your answer but you are creating space for learning.
So, the next time you get ready to conduct a performance review or assemble a new team, gear up and engage with a discerning, open and curious ear.
A good place to start is with the inquisitiveness of a child. They seem to be on to something.