Listening is the most important skill a leader can have.
Has anyone ever given you constructive feedback?
A friend was kind enough to provide me some feedback a few weeks ago. He started with a compliment, “Doug, you have an amazing skill and sense of confidence that allows you to break the silence in the room and get people to open up and talk more.” He had my attention… He then continued, “I feel that you could be even more successful if you gave more thought to when you should use that skill and when you should pull back and allow others to talk more. A careful balance of talking and listening is a great sign of wisdom and will help you be an even more effective leader.” The style and manner of his delivery was impressive, but I will be honest, it was still hard to hear. Using some training I had learned I simply replied, “thank you for the feedback”.
This simple suggestion stuck in my head for days. I admit when I first heard it, I was defensive and did not think it applied to me. However, as days went by I started to see it differently, and eventually even consider it as wise counsel.
So what changed in those few days. For me the biggest breakthrough was for me to depersonalize the comment and remove any emotion. When I thought about it in general I compared it to a strategy in poker called changing gears, and how the best poker players master this ability and change their playing style in response to the different game conditions they face. Similarly I thought about how much attention the quiet person in the room gets when they actually speak up, and I thought about how annoying it is when someone dominates the conversation and doesn’t pause or let others share their insights. Am I annoying? Regardless, I finally began to see the power in being conscientious about when and how frequently I speak up. Based on this insight, I realized I could actually be more effective if I would wisely choose when to speak up and when to spend more time listening and analyzing the room.
How do you handle feedback and criticism? Most of us are quick to get defensive or disqualify the comment, but the wisest response is to simply thank them for the feedback and then process it on your own at a later time. In almost all cases people offer feedback in kindness because they feel it will help you improve. Can you hold back the urge to be defensive and try to understand the why they shared it and what you can do to use it in a constructive way to improve?
I can’t wait to thank my friend for having the courage to share this insight with me. And I know practicing this new learning will be hard for a talker like me, but it is a skill I must master to be the best I can be. What feedback have you been ignoring? or learning from? How well you listen is a great sign of your leadership potential…
What feedback do you have for me? I would love to learn from you and your experiences, so please share any comments that would be helpful. As always I wish you the best,