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All Ears? A Listening Approach to Leadership.

Few people enjoyed talking to their General Manager Kevin. At his mahogany desk- he hid behind three computer-monitors. When not focused on one of the screens- he continually glanced at his cell phone as employees spoke. The only ones who received his full attention were customers. Managers and supervisors resented his self-important attitude and found little reward in updating their GM who showed so little interest in listening to them.

Jodie Brown   |   1st February 2014
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Jodie Brown Jodie Brown

Jodie Brown is the founder and president of Summit Solutions – the only Business Aviation...
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Few people enjoyed talking to their General Manager Kevin. At his mahogany desk- he hid behind three computer-monitors. When not focused on one of the screens- he continually glanced at his cell phone as employees spoke. The only ones who received his full attention were customers. Managers and supervisors resented his self-important attitude and found little reward in updating their GM who showed so little interest in listening to them.

Even when speaking with attentive listeners- all of us at times are challenged to be heard- particularly in an aviation environment that creates its own distractions. After all- who isn’t tempted to look out the window or hangar door at the Falcon 7X arriving- or the Sikorsky taking-off?

Within the metal hangars and thin office walls along their periphery- a blast of sound from the firing-up of engines and the racket of air compressors- drills and old 1970s music can be invasive. Our brains strain to sift through the din to determine which sounds are crucial and which can be ignored. Somewhere- the human voice gets lost among the noise- and once that happens the listener’s attention and interest are lost as well.

How to Listen Successfully
'Listening' means we attend to what the other person is saying or intends to say. It means leaving the speaker with the feeling that he or she has been heard. We know the requisites for effective listening: don’t interrupt- pay attention- clarify for understanding- listen with an open mind- and focus on the speaker. Yet we often don’t observe these basics. Quite often the problem isn’t that we don’t know how to listen; it’s that we shut out something or someone we don’t want to hear.

Leaders must build credibility and knowledge in many facets of an aviation business; they have to form trusting alliances among a diverse constituency. To get their team to embrace the department’s vision and achieve corporate goals- leaders must persuade their team members to act upon Action Plans and understand the benefits of doing so. Leaders do this best when they listen to what’s important to others.

Being a good listener is one of the best skills a leader can learn. How do you rate your listening skills?

Self-Inventory
• Do you listen to multiple conversations at the same time or do you focus on one speaker?
• Do you nod- show interest and are you responsive when someone is speaking to you?
• Do you pre-judge the person speaking with regard to his or her position?
• Do you glance at texts or emails when someone is speaking to you?
• Do you end someone’s sentences for them?
• Do you divert your attention or cut off the conversation if the topic fails to hold your interest?
• Do you listen to diverse or opposing points of view and try to uncover the speakers’ reasons for their opinions- or do you interrupt to voice yours?

How did you do? Perhaps to become a better listener- you might follow the following tips to manage your attention- time and energy investment:

• Minimize distractions for both you and the speaker. Step away from the aircraft. Move from behind your desk- and stand so that you can focus and the speaker’s point can be made quickly.
• Listen both for content and also for what the speaker is trying to convey within his or her choice of words. Practice listening to the phrasings and emotions within the speaker’s tone of voice.
• Demonstrate that you’ve heard the speaker. For extroverts- listen to the speaker’s entire sentence. Hear the other person out and keep your mouth closed. For introverts- nod your head- utter an “uh- huh” or “okay” to show that you are listening.
• Who do you listen to and who do you tune out? What factors account for your selective listening? Is it their accent- position- age- skill- intelligence- taste (similar or dissimilar)- gender- or perhaps what they can offer you?

Challenge yourself to listen for content and not judge the message by the messenger. Listening- per se- means you aren’t being asked to solve a problem. “Then why are they taking up my time yakking if they don’t want a solution?” Listen to show empathy. Don’t stop listening when the information is unpleasant or the speaker is wrong. Listening is learning. Again- the rules don’t change. Listen for content and the emotions others are projecting in their attempt to convey what’s on their mind.

To become a better leader- listen and learn. Calvin Coolidge once said- “No man ever listened himself out of a job.”

 

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