According to Listening Legend, Dr. Ralph Nichols, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.” And “The best way to understand people is to listen to them”. Sound familiar?
The act of hearing is simply defined as “being able to perceive with the ear, the sound made by someone or something.” Most of us have the ability to hear, but listening is all together a different skill set. Knowing the difference, and being able to demonstrate to your stakeholders that you’re truly listening, is often what sets a good leader apart from the great.
Here are three reminders to help you remain in good company, with the great!
Speak their language
We’ve all been there – whether it’s a meeting with your IT department, a conversation with a vendor, or drinks with a few friends in a different profession – where the language used was so foreign, technical or riddled with acronyms that it was impossible to follow. Whatever the forum for communication, it’s important to remember to speak the language of your audience – or risk being seen as an outsider who doesn’t “get” who they are.
It’s natural for groups of like-minded professionals to innately form a community with not just common backgrounds and interests, but a common language as well – full of technical terms, jargon, acronyms and idioms – unique to their sector. This universal language has the power to unite us and bind communities of practice together, but on the contrary, it also has the power to alienate others, including our stakeholders.
As leaders, looking to ensure that our stakeholder communities feel heard and listened to, it’s incumbent upon us to use language that’s accessible and easily understood by all. This applies whether we’re communicating face-to-face, via print, or online.
True insight requires diverse perspectives
If your stakeholder community is like most, it’s probably a mosaic of people with varying beliefs, cultures, demographics, and socio-economic backgrounds. This degree of diversity can certainly add a level of complexity to any organization seeking buy-in from its stakeholders, but with it comes tremendous opportunity. Understanding issues from as many diverse perspectives as possible, brings forward a level of richness and clarity not found amongst like-minded groups – offering true insight into important issues. It also provides an opportunity to demonstrate that all perspectives are important, no matter what corner of the room they come from.
It’s important to keep in mind that acknowledging differences and honouring diverse perspectives doesn’t mean submissively bending to the will of the few. It’s our job to listen and respect diverse perspectives, while balancing polarities and promoting the route that’s best for all. As leaders, having the ability to reflect on the thoughts and concerns of our stakeholders is key, and a good place to start. But enabling our communities to reflect on the thoughts of others, takes the notion of reflection to great! One way to do this is through the “Star” feature built into all Thoughtexchange processes.
Time and again it’s been proven that the collective wisdom in the “room” is always smarter than any single person in it – including us as leaders.
Uncover the “sweet-spot” – look beyond the differences for commonalities
Given the mass diversity amongst most groups, it’s hard to imagine there being any commonalities, but in fact, stakeholder groups – when properly facilitated – are typically surprised at just how much they have in common. Without an effective engagement process, stakeholders often get stuck on the differences that diversity brings. As leaders we can help them listen to each other. We can help them see and understand where their interests intersect, and help them work from that central, common, space – often referred to as the “sweet-spot”.
Diverse groups are smarter than homogeneous groups only when they can connect through common interests. They need something to bring them together, something to agree on so that they can see past their differences. A typical Thoughtexchange Process amongst stakeholders will almost certainly surface vast differences of opinion. But just as often it will uncover the many similarities and agreements between even the most diverse groups.
Exemplary leaders know that creating a forum to hear from as many of their stakeholders as possible – with the intention of truly listening and ultimately understanding – is one of their most valuable assets. They also know that it’s critical to share back what they’ve learned, in order for their community to genuinely feel heard.
What have you heard lately?