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Listen Deeply and Speak Softly

Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.

– Marian Wright Edelman

A common problem with leaders, especially as they transition to new leadership roles, is that they do not listen to others very well. Leaders typically progress by speaking up and being noticed, and the shift from speaking to listening is difficult.

Truly listening requires being very present, aware, and mindful of what the other person is saying. While someone else is talking, don’t think of what they have to say as a pause between what you said before and what you want to say when the person is done. Don’t check your phone or think about other projects. Just listen. Ask questions that encourage dialogue on the topic, not just short responses. At the end of the conversation, reflect on what was said and what you learned, and be open to changing your previous opinion and perceptions. If appropriate, communicate how you plan to respond, and follow up to demonstrate that the person’s ideas are important to you.

Similarly, communicate openly and transparently, but softly and only when necessary. A hallmark of the best leaders I’ve been lucky to work with is that they are often the quietest people in the room. They don’t feel the need to assert their authority by talking, as they have already earned it with their authenticity. When you speak, every word should be necessary and have meaning. Being concise is powerful, and it respects the time of others. Think about and plan everything you say, but keep your message real and authentic.

One of the realities of being a leader is that we have to deal with conflicts—between coworkers, between peers, or even with our spouses or other family members. Most of us do not enjoy conflict, and a typical response is to clam up or make a hasty decision. We will do anything to resolve the situation quickly so we can move on to more fun tasks, like analyzing our department’s profit and loss statement.

Mindful leadership requires a different approach. Respect the other person, or the people with the conflict, by truly listening. Don’t assume you understand the context and their perspective. Ask questions to get to the root cause. Display humility, and put yourself in the servant position trying to enable the success of the people and organization. Be authentic by reinforcing your values and principles. Remember that solutions don’t have to be win-lose. By doing this, you can get rid of your fear of conflict, and even reduce the amount of conflict within your organization. Your team, knowing that their views are heard, considered, and respected, will be more open and accepting to your eventual decision, even if it conflicts with what they believe.