Active Listening!

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

– Stephen Covey

I always thought that I love interacting with people, it comes very easily to me. And this thought got stronger as people close to me came across wanting to discuss their concerns and worries. I would silently listen to them and be the comforting shoulder they need. I was happy that my listening skills were working. Until recently, when I got formally introduced to the competency of Active Listening and comprehending what it exactly means. I reflected that being silent in a conversation doesn’t mean that I am listening. 

Most of us can vouch for our listening skills and we have learnt at some point in our lives the basic rules of listening:

  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Not interrupting whilst the other person is still speaking
  • Giving non-verbal cues like nodding, mirroring, smiling 
  • Paraphrasing what has been said
  • Brief verbal affirmations like “I understand”, “I See” “Sure”

Active listening is few steps ahead of the basic rules of listening. Active listening involves more than just hearing someone speak. It refers to a pattern of listening that keeps you engaged in the conversation. When you practice active listening, you make the other person feel heard and valued. In this way, active listening is the foundation for any successful conversation.

As I reflected deeper, I was doing all that was listed for good habits in listening skills, however, somethings were holding me back from Active Listening:

  1. My inner voice: as the other person spoke, there was this ‘I know what you are feeling’ voice inside me which spoke inside my head making me deaf (sometimes even dreaming or taking me back to a similar instance in my life). Without hearing the full part, I already had a narrative in my head. 

Reflection: Shut down your internal dialogue while listening. It is impossible to attentively listen to the speaker and your own internal voice at the same time. 

2. Asking questions: since we are taught too much of not interrupting, I even lost the knack of asking questions thinking that I may be interrupting. And by the time the person would stop talking I have lost the thread and forgotten the question. 

Reflection: Avoid interrupting abruptly however, show interest by asking questions to clarify what is said. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the speaker.

3. Being judgmental: labelling comes easy to me, I often conclude without listening to all perspectives, thoughts and cover it with my own judgements. As you label, you stop listening further and be a selective listener. 

Reflection: Consciously practice being open, neutral, and withhold judgement while listening. Be patient and listen, everyone doesn’t need your judgements. 

4. Focusing on reply: as the speaker is talking, I am preparing myself for a reply or a solution to what’s being said. Thus, loosing track of what’s being said.

Reflection: Do not prepare your reply while the other person speaks; the last thing that they say may change the meaning of what has already been said. It is my need to reply, may not be the speakers need. So, focus on what is being said. 

As I consciously work on my reflections, I realized it allows me to understand the point of view of the speaker and respond with empathy. It also allows me to ask questions to make sure I have understood what is being said thereby raising my curiosity quotient. In addition, active listening helps relationships grow as it makes you less likely to jump in with a ‘quick fix’ when the other person just wants to be heard. Most importantly, it validates the speaker and makes them want to speak longer.

#FeedbackMatters

“We all need people who give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

  • Bill Gates

As we settle down with work from home patterns and enjoy working in pajama’s, it is coming at the mitigated risk of siloed working. From elevator talks and conference room high-fives to coffee machine gupshups and lunch table conversations. Reduced interactions with extended teams and colleagues at work don’t just take an emotional toll; they can take a toll on our work outcomes as well. In order to make progress and keep growing apart from self-motivation we also need to get timely and constructive feedback and information on how we’re doing.

Whilst many leaders are consciously taking leadership lessons to manage their teams in the virtual environment, some leaders yet resort to traditional techniques like the “praise sandwich” that ends up doing more harm than good. In these times, when employees are expected to make a shift in their work patterns, it’s important to monitor behaviors over time and under different circumstances. Someone who excelled at building relationships through watercooler chitchat will need to find new methods when the work group goes completely virtual. Likewise, the individual who was overlooked as too socially awkward may begin to shine in a remote working environment. Employees will need feedback on how effective their behavior is in this new world so they can learn which new behaviors they may need to adopt, and which may now be seen as strengths.

Rather than relying on feedback hierarchy and using traditional ways of giving feedback, current times require leaders to have continuous coaching conversations. This will help establish a rhythm of collaboration and create shared accountability for performance and development. These conversations are more than just talk — they will have different purposes and outcomes at weekly, monthly and quarterly intervals. Leaders should consider a partnership model that distributes power and increases two-way conversation with their employees — leading to a more authentic and revealing feedback experience that fosters trust, flows with the rhythm of work, and sets the conditions for positive, lasting change.

Traditional feedback is focused more on being directive and telling them what they need to improve on. This reduces employee motivation and thus affects productivity as well. Asking powerful questions to help individuals reflect and introspect deeper on their strengths helps them unlock their potential and focus on ‘What’s going well’. This enlarges employees’ perspectives while expanding their development horizons. They not only look at developing their gaps, but they also get to spotlight their strengths.

Great ongoing coaching conversations create a two-way street of communication that makes it easy to discuss needs and challenges. Leaders should keep focus on the future — identifying opportunities, quickly communicating changes and preparing for potential pivots. Even in times of crisis, employees still want to know that their long-term growth and success haven’t been forgotten.

Due to the uncertainty the pandemic has posed on our lives, continuous and constructive feedback will continue to play a key role in ensuring employees feel that their contribution is valued, it gives them some stability and motivation moving forward.

Giving Feedback with Candor

“Make sure that you are seeing each person on your team with fresh eyes every day. People evolve, and so your relationships must evolve with them. Care personally; don’t put people in boxes and leave them there.” ― Kim Malone Scott, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

Recently whilst designing content for a session I started to research on ‘Giving Developmental Feedback’. The first word associated with feedback is ‘Performance Appraisal’ and after reading couple of articles and listening to videos I had gathered enough material on how to give feedback, the process, some models, some tips and so on… Half-way in designing the program I read this amazing concept of ‘Radical Candor’. It took me back to one of the first lectures of my TISS course, where I was first introduced to this powerful concept. 

Radical Candor is a book written by Kim Scott. It is a proven way of improving and strengthening manager-subordinate relationships. To put it up simply, Scott has spoken of the concept with four quadrants. Visualize a graph divided into four quadrants, if the vertical axis is ‘Caring Personally’ and the horizontal axis is ‘Challenging Directly’, you want your feedback to fall in the upper right-hand quadrant. That’s where radical candor lies. She has elaborated the concept with relevant examples from her personal experiences to add more value and practical insights. 

We have known feedback conversations to be very traditional, managers and subordinates talk about professional development goals and managers also end-up giving critical feedback sweetly – leaving the employee to think ‘What is my development area?’. Holding the conversation using ‘Candor’ can lead it to not only giving real-time feedback but also building strong relationship with the subordinate. 

The conversation starts with:

  • Life story of the subordinate: Start with the past
  • Dreams: Talk about the future
  • Career Action Plan: Plan for the Present

Whilst giving feedback remains a very formal process in an organization, Candor can bring in a human element to the formal process where you share safe space with your team member and be vulnerable so that they as well can open-up to talk freely. 

I think this book should be read by not just every manager, but also those who are part of a team and want to improve the honesty, trust, and output of the team and those around them. 

How I met my Soul? 

The past was hauling all over me, I thought I had moved on the path of life. Laughed a lot, cracked jokes and smiled all along, and everyone around said – what a Happy soul! Little did I know, I carried the baggage each day with me under my breath with a heavy sigh.

Seen enough in my early days I thought I knew it all, I could solve everyone’s problems. Loved to listen to others and help them solve their problems. Little did I know, I couldn’t even realise I had a problem to deal with.

Troubled times make you stronger, “My girl you are very Strong” is something that kept me going. The strength was now shivering; the dark cold nights were long and weary. I waited for sunshine to peep into my window. Little did I know; the storm was yet to pass!

When happiness embraced me it was all sunny; I let the sun hide behind the dark cloud. Baggage of the past, feeling of betrayal, the habit of never saying “NO”, always being accommodative and always thinking about others first was all that held the sunshine behind. Little did I know that the sunshine was here to stay.

Lost in emptiness I thought that was the way of life, closed myself in doubt and sorrow and locked happiness away. Lost all perspective and only breathed to live. Little did I know that one day I will be on the path to Self-Discovery!

Lost everything that I loved dearly, never wanted to love anything back again. Little did I know I never loved myself enough to live thoroughly.

A forgotten dream, I lived again. An entry to a course in TISS got me an entry to my life. A welcome move – a course on OD and Change Management started with a change in my perspective to life. Little did I know there was much on the platter for me.

Human Interaction Lab – 5 days of emotions, life stories, walking through our journey in a small group. Right from drawing “Who am I?” to being in the “Here and Now”, the focus was on emotions. Whether it was identifying our own patterns, reflecting on others’ stories or understanding our emotions “What happens within when we hear others’ emotions”. Little did I know that an outburst awaited.

I set myself free from all that held me back, as I spoke, I heard myself too! These words were heard for the first time by me. I felt invigorated as my group members helped me collect all my anger, my fears, my pain and my doubts pack them and throw them away far oh so far that they never reach me back. Little did I know that this outburst would get me so close to myself. It felt nice, I felt relieved. I found my soul.

Come what may – Stand by yourself, think big, live fearless, take responsibility of all that you do and most important live for “Here and Now”.

Gratitude is now the way of life… can’t thank you enough Gauri you’ve helped and guided us in the process of soul searching. Heartfelt thanks to my supportive group members who showered their encouraging words to me during the process.