Hey Leaders! Are You Listening MORE Than You are Talking?

Kathryn Scanland Leadership

Communication is 80% listening & inquiring and 20% speaking. The former must guide the latter.  ~Gary Burnison

In my experience, when the topic of leadership and communication comes up, it’s very frequently assumed that by communicating we mean speaking. Actually, speaking is speaking, not necessarily communicating, and according to Gary Burnison, author of The 12 Absolutes of Leadership. Speaking comprises only 20% of actual communication.
I recently viewed a speech given by Charles Handy (British management guru) in honor of Peter Drucker; He said that he wanted to give the speech so he could learn what he really thought about some of Peter’s theories. Handy said that we learn the most by talking and listening to ourselves. He said that the audience will remember very little of what he said; but he would not only remember what he said, he would learn what he really thinks. So again, why do we think that as leaders, people will learn so much more from us if we talk a lot?
I’ll add one last example from another well-known leadership expert, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and several other books on leadership. I heard Jim speak a couple of years ago and he provided the audience with Ten To-Do’s to increase our leadership effectiveness. One of the ten was to double our ratio of questions to statements. He said we should “invest more in being interested and less in trying to be interesting.” In other words, ask more and talk less.
Another consultant, Lainie Heneghan, Europe Managing Director for JMW Worldwide (UK) Ltd., provides an example of the impact of listening more and talking less.

Consider this example from the leadership team of a worldwide pharmaceutical company.  As they were about to roll out a controversial initiative, they sought help in dealing with the expected employee backlash.They knew from experience that in the face of unpopular change, employees tended to leave their concerns or objections unspoken at first – only to surface later in the form of dissension.

The guidance they were given was simple: to present the plan to a group of key managers and influencers, and to listen to what they had to say until those managers and influencers had nothing further to say. The leadership team members were advised to look at each objection as if it were a ball being thrown at them. Listening was like catching the ball. Throwing it back, or responding, represented not listening.

They held the meeting and stayed true to this listening approach – and emerged with the support of all but one participant. In addition, they gained a better understanding of how they could work with their teams to improve the plan and make it work for everyone. The meeting took a little longer than the typical initiative launch – but it ultimately saved far more time and created much greater possibilities for the initiative’s success.

Imagine if as leaders, we were able to harness our felt need to talk and replaced it with listening and inquiring.  For every hour, we listened and inquired for 48 minutes and talked for 12 minutes.

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

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