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Why Should Leaders Listen to Their Team? (And Why Is It so Hard?)

Do you really listen to all the people you lead? Not only listen to what they say, but effectively process the message, put in some thought and have an opinion about it. “My boss doesn’t listen to what I say”, - this gripe is prevalent in every industry, and I’m sure you’ve been through this yourself or know someone who has complained about it.

After a few years of leading teams, I understand why this is a common complaint - it is hard to listen, or rather, to actively listen. Let’s be honest, it is much easier to say something and listen back (reply) with nothing but a “Yes, yes“. Else you run the risk of a 30 second talk turning into a 30 minute argument, where both walk away unhappy with it. So why bother listening for real?

Because you know how you hate it when the same has happened to you. When your ideas, thoughts and suggestions are met with absent-minded nodding. You feel demotivated and diminished. It makes you contribute less and care little about what happens in the project or initiative that you’re working on. So why cause this reaction in your team?

A Few Good Pointers

I agree that simply saying that a leader must listen is quite vague. So here are a few good practices:

  • Prioritize One-On-Ones: if you have a team of 10 people, save at least 1 hour of “talk time” per month per person. Take this time to understand individual motivations, in particular, since this is key for a successful team. Put your team on your priority list.

  • Ask Questions: It doesn’t make any sense to save time to talk to someone when you just shake your head up and down to everything the other says. In one hour of talk, for sure there’s something you don’t get or disagree with. Ask questions, clarify doubts and establish a dialogue that makes both parties better understand each other’s motivations.

  • Sit with your Team: Close collaboration and information sharing result from members of a team working together daily. Sitting together with your team gives you an in-depth view of the team’s day-to-day interactions, dynamics between various roles, working styles and other valuable insights that will help you better manage your team and project.

  • Align your Team with the Enterprise: Every employee is driven by individual motivations. Aligning them to the company’s goals helps to build a stronger, close-knitted work culture with a common vision. Provide your team with opportunities for self-improvement that also benefit the organization. For instance, if someone wants to develop her presentation skills, encourage her to present that important report to the client, or do a presentation about something she did on the project that was successful.

The consequence? Higher engagement, more team cohesion and better outcomes. Most importantly, team morale increases, as everyone feels more committed and driven having been effectively heard.

Originally posted on ComputerWorld here. 

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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