Agency life is crazy… like, straight up bananas. Just when you think you have settled into a rhythm, something happens and you are thrown back onto the rollercoaster. So how do our leaders stop and really listen to employees with all this outside chaos happening? How do you hear voices over static?
I think the answer lies in the process of active listening. Active listening is a core component of the process of coaching. It’s listed as one of the eight competencies of coaching in the workplace (According to accrediting body- the International Coaching Federation) the rest are listed below:
- Demonstrating Ethics (who can argue with that?!)
- Embody a coaching mindset (duh)
- Establish and maintain agreements
- Cultivating trust and safety (always important in a workplace)
- Maintains presence (meaning no distractions!)
- Listens actively (now we are getting somewhere)
- Evoke awareness (hold a mirror up)
- Facilitates client (or employee) growth
For the purpose of this exercise, I would like to focus on the “listens actively” and “maintains presence” portion of the program. What does it mean to listen actively? Sure, we have a general idea of what this means, but when is the last time you actually did it? I’d argue it’s the most important part of managing and simply being an employee. Think of how much better your life is when you feel like you are really being heard.
How do we listen actively? Take a minute, take a deep breath, and clear your head. Recognize the feelings you are bringing in all on your own before you even start talking. Then get rid of them. If you want to really listen to someone, you need to check all of your own emotions at the door. This works for clients too! Want your client to feel heard? Be aware of the vibes you are carrying right along to the conversation before it even starts.
Be present in your conversations. Ask questions! Be curious! But be aware of your line of questioning. Are your questions there to build your understanding and invoke meaningful conversation or are they the kind of questions that feel more like an interrogation? I can tell you that no one feels heard when they also feel like they are being interrogated. Allow yourself time to reflect on what is being said. That can include just sitting in the silence. Getting comfortable in that space of pause will allow for a more thoughtful response.
Most of us know that the best way to let someone know they have been heard is to repeat back what someone is telling you, but think about using the full experience of what is being said to get a better understanding. Look for body language, tone, and other non-verbal cues to understand what may not be verbalized. Often what people are saying is only half the story. Remain focused, empathetic, and observant while managing your own emotions to keep yourself present for the person you are talking to.
Whether you are looking to build a coaching relationship with an employee or just learning to listen better to your client, active listening and maintaining presence in your conversations will help you build stronger trust and connections with those around you.
Written by Vice President, Human Resources, Melissa Davis