Effective communications are critical at this time. That, along with empathy, are identified as the two most important leadership traits needed in a crisis. When it comes to effective communications, sometimes you have to listen to be heard. How’s that?
Can you imagine a more stressful role than being the person responsible for providing intelligence briefings to the President of the United States? In a recent interview, President Trump’s CIA intelligence briefer Beth Sanner spoke about the pressures of her role. But this specific comment stuck out to me:
Be calm in your confidence, do your homework, and have that first briefing be where you hit the things they need from you,” she said. “Watch your audience and pivot—when they’re done, you’re done. Ultimately, it’s about listening to be heard. You have to really hear people and then adjust yourself.” (emphasis added)
I love the imagery of this. Most would tell you that if you want to be heard, talk more, talk louder, and talk way more often. But Sanner is correct in this observation. Effective communicators listen, adjust, and pivot. And by doing so, their message is heard more effectively than those who talk more, talk louder and talk way too much.
Increase your empathy
Empathy is one of the top leadership virtues we are looking for today. In a time of unprecedented turmoil, we are looking for leaders who understand what we are going through and have the compassion to treat these challenges with humility and kindness. Empathy is not being sympathetic to their needs. Rather, it is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of those you lead.
When we speak about empathy we often use cliches like “walking their shoes” or “seeing it from their perspective”. These can be useful. Personally, I love an image that I’ve seen with two silhouettes of heads, each a different color (let’s say red and blue). The “redhead” has a blue brain in his head. The “blue head” has a red brain in his head. This idea of being able to visualize the situation thinking like the other person is a great visual.
Empathy comes naturally when we can truly understand what the other person is facing. Most often this comes through shared experiences. When we have experienced similar things as they have.
But leaders with strong empathy skills don’t necessarily have to have the shared experience in order to be empathetic. They can relate because they can find examples in their past where they faced similar challenges. They tap into these feelings to help them understand and appreciate the other person’s perspective.
So how does listening to be heard apply? If you listen to the other person, you will gain more clues of what is actually going on inside of them. By paying careful attention, you can assess and apply your own experiences to develop empathy for them. And, by doing so, can now respond to them with empathy in an appropriate manner.
Increase your relevance
One of the most significant desires that almost every human shares is the desire to be *relevant”. Why is this? And why does our desire to be relevant often come at the cost of others? Quite simply, we often live and operate with a limited mindset. And with that mindset comes the fear that a win for you means a loss for me. Our desire to be seen as relevant often extends to the feeling that we have to be “more relevant” than the other person.
If you practice listening skills, you will tap into the wants and needs of the person you are listening to. And with that, you will gain insight into the things that are truly most important to you. This positions you to address their needs, and is a great example of what it means to listen to be heard.
They will share their fears, their concerns, their wants and their aspirations. And, when they do, you have been given great insight.
You have just been given the ticket to become relevant.
By responding to them in a manner that addresses their fears and aspirations, you have tapped into their psyche. You have increased your relevance.
Increase your impact
Beyond relevance, we crave being important. We crave power. (I know, some of you are saying you don’t… about half of you don’t and the other half are lying to yourself).
When you turn the conversation around and listen first… listen to be heard. You will figure out what is really happening. Perhaps there is a deeper problem than your boss is sharing with you. Perhaps you are hearing more in the customer’s complaint than those on your team.
When you truly listen, you hear things that aren’t said.
What? It’s true. Listen “between the lines”. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear. The more you’ll hear, the more you’ll understand. And, with that understanding comes the opportunity to make a bigger impact.
After your communication partner has shared a lot of details with you, try playing them back to them. Then ask some follow-up questions. “So you are saying….?” “What have you tried…?” “What needs to be done…?”
These questions gain clarity. But they also position you as someone who is insightful and has an idea.
If you play your cards right, after asking several thought-provoking questions, they’ll ASK YOU for your input. Now, you can make an impact!
How do I learn to “listen to be heard”?
I would start by learning your behavior and communications traits. Hire a coach (like me) who can help you work through this. By learning your own traits, you then learn how others perceive you. Only then can you adapt your style and behaviors such that people will notice.
I had a client recently who told me that his boss said to him “I didn’t know what to think about you hiring a coach, but whatever he’s doing, it’s working”!
Second, work with your friends, significant others, co-workers or anyone who can hold you accountable. Tell them what you are trying to do. And ask them to give you feedback on your listening skills. If you find good partners that will give you honest feedback, you’ll should start growing immediately. But make sure you choose wisely. A partner that won’t give you feedback will do more harm than good.