When my daughter was just learning to speak, it was not always easy to decipher what she was saying. At times, I would listen and nod my head and provide a generic response like, ‘oh, that’s nice’ or ‘really?’. She would look at me and say ‘You don’t know what I am saying’ walk away frustrated that I did not understand, but pretended that I did.
She could feel, even at three, that while I was listening, I had not heard her.
Fast forward…today my adult daughter is much more articulate so we don’t have that issue. However, there are times when I still act through the motions of listening. Her response now is “You are making that face; I can tell you are not listening”.
Again, she knows and feels that I am not hearing her.
These are simple examples that anyone can relate. The art of listening is to hear it and then reflect back to the other person in a way that THEY know they have been heard.
If we look more broadly at our workplace, most often we cannot be as blunt with our leadership as my daughter can be with me, but being heard and understood is equally as important.
There is an emotional exchange we have grossly undervalued and underestimated, requiring energy, focus and openness. We all know when we are not being heard, and it does not feel good.
When someone takes the time to share their thoughts, feedback, and ideas, why don’t leaders genuinely hear them? Disengagement numbers would lead me to believe that employees are feeling very much like my 3 year old daughter; frustrated, not heard and sadly, not understood.
People want to feel connection, to grow and contribute. For most of us, the work we do either makes us feel significant or not. The idea that employees are lethargic or don’t want to work is simply not true. Many environments are not supporting a culture of engagement.
Being heard is fundamental to this environment. It is not enough to send a survey, and respond to it in a group town hall meeting. People need to see new behaviors or positive changes based on the feedback that they provided. We can all ‘feel’ when leaders are just going through the motions.
The consistent push back to more frequent, personalized communication is ‘we don’t have time’. This ever scarce commodity of time becomes the go to excuse for nearly all things human in business.
It is true, the world is more accessible and many things compete for attention. However, with increasing complexity in our workplace; listening has to be a priority. We have to be okay with what we hear and open to understanding where people are coming from even when we don’t like it, don’t understand it or it makes us question something we are doing as leaders.
A true ‘exchange’ empowers people. When contribution is acknowledged, our needs as a human being are met. This is how you get to the culture of engagement that is so highly coveted.
On-going dialogue with employees needs to be approached with more care and respect. Finding new ways to gather feedback faster, overcoming the issue of ‘time constraints’.
Embracing technology, like THRIVE, as a tool for listening is just the beginning.
It is the work of leaders and those in power positions to create the environment, placing higher value on honest feedback and meaningful conversations, replacing the need for constant surveys and questionnaires. And, it is the work of employees to demand it.
With the right focus and modern digital tools, the workplace can evolve to an environment where leaders have fine-tuned the art of listening, really hearing and understanding what their organizations and employees need.