Listen up!

bigstock--Listen upIt seems that listening is becoming a bit of a lost art, to everyone’s detriment. Without the ability to listen, we doom ourselves to never moving beyond the limits of our current thinking — and such thinking is limiting, regardless of how we might like to convince ourselves otherwise.

Listening is different than hearing. According to Merriam Webster, hearing is “the process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” This definition made me think of Charlie Brown’s teacher . . . waa wa waa wa wa. Yes, in today’s 24/7 environment, there is more sound out there to perceive than ever before. But are we listening, or do we simply see people’s mouths moving and filter what they are saying as good or bad . . . as supporting our position or challenging it?

Webster defines listening as “to pay attention to sound, to hear something with thoughtful attention, give consideration.” Giving consideration is a very different thing from perceiving sound. Which do you do most often?

Giving consideration isn’t about being “wishy washy,” or politically correct, or not having a strength of your convictions. To the contrary, the willingness to listen — really listen — requires a great deal of confidence. Are you confident enough to give thoughtful attention to a different perspective, and perhaps adjust your thinking a bit as a result? Are you confident enough to strive for the “best” in a situation rather than being “right”? (Best is about others, right is about you). Best comes from considering multiple perspectives . . . from listening . . . before you make a decision.

Leaders who don’t listen — who filter out input from anyone who doesn’t see the world as they do — often end up on an island of their own making, cut off from a large expanse of perspectives, insight, and potential. Islands can be cozy places, but they limit how far you can go. As a leader, if you find yourself on such an island (which happens more easily than you might think), what can you do? Listen.

Listening builds bridges. If all you are hearing is people who agree with you, then you need to ask for diverse perspectives. Seek to understand. Listening is not about waiting your turn to tell someone why he or she is wrong. It is about giving consideration, walking a mile in their shoes. Ultimately, you may not agree with the person or perspective, but by listening you start to build a bridge off that island. You expand your possibilities for future success. You lead.

Maybe it’s time to listen up.

Can You Hear Me Now?


One of the real challenges of leading, especially in today’s fast-paced 24/7 environment, is taking the time to “hear yourself think.” We listen to others, we read up on the latest trends, we review the numbers . . . we take in all kinds of data every day. And while understanding the data is important, it’s not enough. It is the layering of that information among and through our experience and context and perspective that yields the transformative ideas or innovative solutions. And to do that, you have to turn down the volume on everything else.

The trouble is, our picture of an effective leader rarely involves turning down the volume. It’s being available, and responding, and tackling the to do list … being productive! It’s similar to how some people can’t relax at home because they always see three more things that need to be done. To really relax, they have to be somewhere else. For me, to “turn down the volume,” I have to leave the office. Luckily (?) for me, our organization is located on the far edge of the state, so any statewide meetings I attend usually requires hours of travel time. No stacks to tend to, no interruptions, no meetings, usually not even a radio … Just me and the symphony of thoughts and ideas going on in my head.

Granted, a peaceful walk in the woods or relaxing next to a cracking fire might be a preferable way to listen to and sort through my thoughts, but hey, you take the breathing room wherever you can get it! Trust me, it’s worth the effort when the synapses start firing. Taking the time to sort through the tangle of “what ifs” in your head can reveal promising solutions that were sitting there all along, just waiting for you to come visit. But the ideas aren’t going to shout above the urgent crises of the day, and you can’t simply schedule 15 minutes for deep thinking (at least that’s never worked for me!) Nope, you have to intentionally carve out chunks of time … whether that’s on planes, trains and automobiles or, for the more disciplined among us, in a creative environment of your choosing.

The great ideas are in there, and if you slow down long enough to listen, you can almost hear them shouting, “Can you hear me now?” Maybe it’s time to listen up.