If you’re an Academy Member, you’ve been through our consultation training and are likely familiar with the approach and methodology. You also know that the key to great consultations pivot on two primary pillars: Listening and Asking questions. These two pillars are the same approach that serve as the foundation to building and maintaining effective relationships, especially as a leader.
Leaders are typically the first people others turn to for guidance and support in the work place. The unfortunate reality is, most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen to respond or to wait for their turn to speak. Leaders who are skilled at listening to their team, know that when a team member raises a concern, it’s often not the concern raised that’s the actual problem – it’s some other circumstance or issue that’s a layer deeper.
Asking questions goes hand in hand with seeking to understand. If you’ve read any of my prior blogs, you know in particular, that I’m a HUGE FAN of open-ended questions. The practice of asking open-ended questions creates a coaching environment built on trust and respect. Open-ended questions invite the space to reveal more than what’s on the surface and allow you to understand how a person thinks or looks at things. If you don’t know the difference between an open-ended question vs. a close-ended question, close-ended questions can be answered with a specific response, like a yes or no. Here are two examples of the same type of question that invite two different responses:
- Closed: Did we meet all of our deadlines last week?
- Open: How did we do with our deadlines last week?
If asking questions and listening in this way doesn’t occur naturally to you, that’s ok. These are things that can be learned and adopted over time with practice. Here are five suggestions related to listening or asking questions that will help you improve your leadership presence:
- Be empathetic. People want to work and be around others who they believe genuinely care and understand them. Showing empathy is arguably the single most important thing you can do to show someone you both care and hear them. Keep in mind, empathy does not mean you agree with what they said. It’s just an acknowledgement that you hear their pain, frustrations, concerns, etc. This might sound like, “Wow, it sounds like you are really frustrated with all of the calls coming into the office.”
- Reflective listening is a great way to help someone feel understood, as well as help them hear how they sound in a new way. This usually involves paraphrasing what someone said and reciting it back. Example, “I want to make sure I heard your concerns correctly. You feel like you aren’t able to meet your assembly deadlines because you are too busy answering phones. Is that correct?”
- Engage the person in the resolution. If a person feels invested in the solution, they will be more likely to follow through and take ownership over addressing the issue. Additionally, over time this will help your team grow their problem-solving skills, which in turn creates a more independent team that you can trust. This might sound something like: “It sounds like you are really frustrated with the last-minute changes being made to our clients’ documents. What do you think we can do about that?”
- Use non-verbal cues to reinforce that you are listening and hearing others. While you might not be verbally talking when someone is speaking to you, your body is still speaking. Having your arms crossed and avoiding eye contact for example, tells the other person you might not want to hear what they are saying to you. Additionally, using positive body motions, like a slight up/down head nod, tells someone that you agree and hear them.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Sure, if you’ve been around the block a few times, you might have seen and heard it all. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and tell someone what to do in these cases. The thing to consider is that while you might have been through similar situations before, the other person may be experiencing it for the first time and their view of what’s happening, is not the same as yours. Don’t assume that common situations have the same impact on everyone. Using the above example about last minute changes to documents, to one person they may not like working in an environment that is filled with surprises and to someone else they might get anxiety about trying to meet a last-minute deadline.
If all of this feels uncomfortable to you, don’t worry. Like consultations, it’s something you can practice and get better with over time and through more interactions.
Director of Member Services
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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