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Shut Up and Listen

Various ear piercingsImage via Wikipedia

Listening means you've got to stop talking.

It never ceases to amaze me how few leaders really listen. I mean really listen. I had lunch with a guy the other day who's been in a leadership role -- a CEO -- for over a decade now. If he consumes as much of the air time with his employees as he did with me over a sixty-minute lunch -- and I bet he does! -- his organization can't be performing at its best.

Robert Sutton, a professor in Stanford's department of managment science and engineering, wrote "The No Asshole Rule" back in 2007. He's followed that up with Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best...and Learn from the Rest. In an interview in INC. magazine in October, Sutton was asked about the right balance between talking and listening.

He said, "On one hand, there is the blabbermouth theory of leadership. In Western cultures, the person who talks the most is viewed as having the highest status...But most bosses ought to shut up and listen more."

Do you have a listening problem? Sure, you know about paraphrasing, not interrupting, listening for underlying meaning. But do you do them? Or, like most of us, are you a selective listener? You listen intently to some, neutrally to others and not at all to yet others. Now think:

  • Who do you listen to? Who don't you listen to?
  • What factors determine the difference?
    • Smarts?
    • Age?
    • Gender?
    • Level?
    • Like you/not like you?

I challenge you to challenge yourself to practice listening to those you don't usually listen to. Listen for content. Separate the content from the person. Work hard to see and hear, and thus acknowledge the other person's humanity and their need to be heard.

Remember, listening doesn't mean you accept what's been said or even that you accept who said it. It just means that you've stopped talking and you're listening.

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