Meetings Would Go Faster If People Took the Time to Listen

Consider this four-step approach to become a better listener.

Several months ago, a CEO I’ll call Elana, who is deaf, approached me for coaching. As we talked through her leadership skills and organizational political landscape, I quickly realized she was a fantastic listener.

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Listening slowly will reduce unnecessary conflict and increase clarity.

As a deaf person, Elana is more intentional about how she listens. In our meetings, Elana and I talk at a slower pace.

She doesn’t interrupt, and I pause whenever I notice Elana taking notes so that she has the chance to read my lips.

We tend to have less confusion because Elana is quick to ask for a clarification if she doesn’t understand a word.

As we worked together, I realized that Elana’s listening and communication strengths in one-on-one meetings are skills that most leaders need.

To listen as slowly and carefully as she does, consider this four-step process:

Understand what’s being said: How much more would you understand about what’s being said in a meeting if you were to single-mindedly focus on the conversation?

You can do this more easily by leaving your devices off the table and taking margin notes in meetings. This type of note-taking allows you to pay attention to the speaker and temporarily park ideas that may interfere with your listening.

Interpret what’s been said: Once you’ve heard someone speak, put their words in context. What does this mean based on the purpose of your discussion? What does the speaker care most about or what’s been said before?

For example, if your direct report is asking for more resources, you can either interpret that to mean the project is going well and the customers are demanding more features – or that the project is going poorly and people on the team aren’t planning well. It all depends on the context.

Verify what’s been said: Don’t assume you understand – confirm what was said. This can be as simple as paraphrasing what you think you heard. It will help you capture the entirety of what’s been said, and it will clarify any points that may have been misinterpreted.

Consider how your point of view relates to what’s been said: This is the key step many individuals skip. Many times, the biggest thing getting in our way of listening is waiting to interject with our own point of view. Instead, allow other views to shape your perspective.

Instead of hastily blurting out a counterargument, consider how your points relate to what has just been said and any other research that may have come to light in the meeting. Aim to make your response build on what’s been said, so it becomes a fuller discussion.

This four-step process for listening can feel unnatural when you first put it into practice.

You might be tempted to insert your own opinions instead of truly listening, interpreting, verifying and considering points of intersection.

However, with practice, listening slowly will reduce unnecessary conflict and increase clarity – giving you a head start for the next meeting.

Photo by James Hammond, Unsplash
This article first appeared on Harvard Business Review and was republished with permission. 

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Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker and writer working in more than 26 countries. She has written for Fast Company, Inc. and Forbes, in addition to HBR.

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