The Value of Listening in a Changing World

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the value of listening. I’ve noticed a trend in business that many of us are simply waiting politely to speak, instead of actively hearing what is being said. This scares me as a leader because I know listening to be the foundation of learning and respect.

Concerned by this, I began doing some simple research about the communicative effects of social media and doing some thought experiments to determine whether this was something I needed to focus on or not. So, this is what I came up with:

First, the word, “value” is a key operator in business with many uses. Quality control and quarterly business reviews serve different functions, but ultimately keep in organization healthy by driving value. So, let’s get on the same page with how I’ll be using the word, “value”.

Value: a relative worth (measurement) of influence that inspires action

     Assumptions:

-       Values inspire actions (positive, negative or neutral)

-       Actions (experiences) build behaviors

-       We want behaviors that drives positive value

-       Rinse, repeat

 

Now, let’s look quickly at simple communication statistics:

-       21% of adult Americans use Twitter (Pew Research Center)

-       6,000 tweets are submitted every second, on average (Internet Live Stats)

-       Twitter, in the past, has only allowed 140 characters (on average, 30 seconds of reading)

-       The actual average tweet character count is around 40 (from the mouth of babes)

-       The ideal (as in, effective) Facebook post is also 40 characters long (Hubspot)

-       50-125 words is the ideal length of an email to capture your reader’s attention (Boomerang)

-       64% of consumers would prefer text over voice as a customer service channel (One Reach)

-       30% of men and 27% of women don’t even listen to their voicemails (One Reach)

 

Do any of those statistics surprise you? I hope you can see my thought progression. I started feeling more confident in my hypothesis: seeing that we are literally shying away from detailed communication (hence this long post, hehe).

Also, with the rapid growth and emphasis on Social Media Marketing, it’s safe to assume that much of the content we are consuming is designed to sell. So, let’s tie this idea together:

 

We’re using less words to create social content

            We are consuming far more social content than ever

                        Much of the social content we consume is advertising

            We have less desire to consume other, more detailed content (emails, VM’s)

I.e., our listening muscle is being weakened (or, we’re losing attention span)

 

I’m trying to correlate the changes in social media behavior to how we interact with those physically around us. I would love to hear an opinion that says these two unrelated. I actually want to know; have you examined to see if you’re paying attention to those around you? Are you trained to consume quick content and lose attention? This is an important question. Losing our ability to listen would be a negative value in the utmost sense.

So again: How well are we listening to one another?

As leaders, our job is to listen pretty darn well. Listening is an imperative to supporting our team members. Supporting people is the most complicated and vital of our leadership responsibilities. Support requires us to know our people so we can motivate and drive the team to positive outcomes. Support requires us to build respect (another positive).

Whether your team is 2 or 200 members, you need to install levers in your day that create opportunities to listen to your team members. This is how you get “buy-in”; hell, this is you build great solutions: collaboration.

Unite your team by being the bond that connects the team. You’ve heard it said that, “You always do what you want to do.” We make our own choices in life. Leaders should be the greatest force of respect in our team member’s lives.

 

Here are 5 things that we should be doing as leaders regularly to build and maintain respect in our teams:

1. Each and every day, you should have time set aside to communicate personably to your team members. The length of these check-ins is up to you. DOING it is the key.

2. During these check-ins, analyze your posture and listening skills. Ask your team members questions to dig deeper into their perspective and opinions. Engage them and build trust. Get them to a place where they want to bring things to the table every day.

3. When making decisions on new initiatives or campaigns, ask for input from each and every person on your team. They don’t have to agree with your final decision, but they deserve to understand.

4. Mentoring is a huge part of leading. You should be having conversations about your team member’s strengths. What do they think their strengths are? Do they know what you think those strengths are? What are you doing to:

            1. Utilize their strengths

            2. Help develop new strengths

5. Perform regular and formal check-ins to go over data. This shouldn’t be rigid slideshow meeting though. Instead it’s an interactive and educational sit-down. Perhaps the data is trying to say something that you aren’t hearing. Perhaps your team member has the missing piece to the data.

 

The days of yelling and angry demands are over (at least they should be). We don’t want to lead with fear, we want to inspire with greatness. Positive value is what we want. So, let’s listen actively.