How many of you have walked into your boss’s office to have a conversation and left wondering if your boss even listened to a word you said? People know when they have been listened to. There is a significant difference between listening and hearing. Most people in conversations hear what the other is saying, but they may not be listening to what is being said. A perfect example of this is lyrics and music.
When we turn on our favorite playlist, we are wanting to hear our favorite songs, but we really aren’t listening to the song. We are hearing the beat, the lyrics, and the amazing guitar riffs in the song. Listening to music is when we pay attention to what is being said in the song; gaining an understanding of the meaning in the lyrics. This happens when we are sitting, our focus is on the lyrics, and we might even be reading the lyrics as the song is playing. We then contemplate the possible meaning behind the lyrics. This is what listening is: focused, attentive, contemplative, and reflective.
Listening and leadership should go hand in hand. If leadership does not listen to those they lead, respect will be lost and issues will form. Being present and actively listening, with the intent to truly understand, promotes respect and sincerity within any organization. Leadership is not about hearing what others are saying, it is about attentively listening to their requests, concerns, opinions, and ideas. It is giving honest attention to those you lead. As author Andy Stanley states, “Leaders who refuse to listen will soon find themselves surrounded by people with nothing to say.” When people under leadership find themselves with nothing to say, it is not because they have “nothing” to say, it is more a reflection on leadership. Four-Star General, Colin Powell, put it this way, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
Truly listening and engaging in what others are saying is an art and a characteristic that most do not have. People are quick to assume that hearing means listening. This simply is not true. As I stated previously, there is a difference between hearing music and listening to music. The same is with people. Watching someone's mouth move and staring them in the eyes is not listening. Listening is engaging in the conversation, reflecting on what is being said, and striving to gain a clear understanding of the individual’s perspective. It’s about showing sincerity and empathy. Listening is one of the most critical characteristics strong, innovative, and passionate leaders possess. The next time someone speaks to you, will you hear what they have to say, or will you listen to what they are saying?