Effective communication for leaders
Listening for the purpose of understanding and being compassionately present with others are two skills that can elevate listening, communication, relationships, and performance. Effective communication lies at the centre of effective high performance teams, individuals and organisations . Ask successful leaders, they know that communication is a core power to connect with, influence and inspire those around them. Effective communication is the art of messaging. It is not just the transfer of a message but the understanding of the message in the way it was meant to be understood by the sender. At the heart of communication is the skill of listening.
The concept of compassionate presence is used by Brene Brown as a synonym for mindfulness. To listen mindfully is to listen with complete attention, with full focus, and acceptance. Compassionate presence allows a buffering when listening. When we listen with acceptance, we respect that each of us have our own perceptions and truths and while we may not agree, we can listen and not judge.
The very idea that we are listening from a place of recognising the other as a unique individual, and non-judging (for ourselves and the other), that there is no right or wrong in that moment. We are just fully present and listening.
Being compassionately present allows us to be focused and fully aware of our own possible perceptual errors, like stereotyping. For example, we may believe a person from a private school background might be wealthy and high achieving or young people are irresponsible. These perceptual errors cause us to make incorrect decisions in recruitment and performance interviews as well as everyday encounters.
Effective listening requires a ‘beginners mind’ to digest a new perspective. Listening as if this is the first time you are hearing this information. Being open minded allows us to hear ideas and information we may otherwise miss. If we do not take a ‘beginners mind’ attitude
we tend to hear what we are looking for, information that reinforces our opinions and knowledge.
The Chinese symbol (ting) for listen, includes these ideas. We see the ear featured on the left and the heart on the bottom right. It also includes focus, the line above the symbol for the heart.
Active listening is the technique of listening with full presence, blocking out physical and psychological noise, coming from a place of awareness of what we bring to the discussion and what the other brings. Our cultural backgrounds, past experiences, expectations, emotions, values, and personalities could all influence the way we message or interpret messages. The greater our awareness the less likely these will create noise.
We listen to the entire message being delivered, what the person is saying (verbal cues) and to their non-verbal cues, their voice, tone, facial expression, body language. We use our heart as well as our mind to feel the meaning behind the words. Here we need to use empathy to understand how the sender of the message is feeling and what they are intending by their message.
Active listening does not assume understanding. It includes acknowledging that we have heard the listener as they are talking, through our own body language signals; sitting slightly forward, nodding, minimal encouragers (example uh huh), smiling, asking questions for clarification. We then check that we have understood correctly by rephrasing and reflecting what we have heard, summarising the key points. This allows all parties to be constantly assured that clear messaging is taking place. Active listening is a skill that is a natural technique to many and can be practised and improved upon by employees and leaders.
Communicating your vision
We often remark that the top skills of a leader are to have a vision and to be able to communicate that vision. What we forget is that the power to listen is one of the greatest leadership tools for success. Leaders need to create a space where people feel free to take ownership of their ideas, mistakes, feedback & feelings. By actively listening and creating this space of compassionate presence more employees will have the courage to step forward with innovative ideas, will take the risk to make a mistake and possibly a breakthrough. More employees will feel free to give feedback that may lead to improvements for products, services, wellbeing, relationships and performance. More employees will feel free to express concerns and confront issues directly so that conflicts and issues can be dealt with early leading to higher job engagement, higher job satisfaction, lower absenteeism and higher productivity.
The more often we confront issues in ‘compassionate presence’ as they arise and the more often we listen with our head and our heart, the more effective messaging will be. For people to truly connect we need to feel heard. To feel heard we need have a space where we can feel safe and respected, where we feel we can communicate freely. The result of connection and clear messaging will be more innovative, connected, happier, high performing people and teams.
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