In late January, one of our contributors, Ben Hershey, posed a question on LinkedIn:
“If you had to pick the top skill or trait in running a successful business, what would it be?”
My immediate answer: “Listening.”
Listening for Problems
When you hear people complaining at work, are you too quickly dismissive of the complaints? Do you already think you “know better” and the people complaining are “looking at things wrong,” trying to cause trouble, or simply whining too much? Consider this: in every complaint, there really is a kernel of truth. It may be small, it may be difficult to see, it may make you uncomfortable, but it’s in there. Why not look at it? Why not address it directly? Complaints left to fester will only generate frustration and resentment. Maybe you can’t fix a problem—but you can try, and you can explain why you can’t if that’s the case.
Listening for Solutions
Are your co-workers and employees potential assets? You bet they are! They spend as much time at work as you do, and they have lots of experience and insight into the inner workings of your business. Do you care enough about what they have to say? Do you spend any time recognizing how much they contribute? Do you have mechanisms for them to provide you with genuine feedback? If not, why not? Are you afraid of what they might say? Are you concerned they might contradict you? If you avoid listening, then you may miss hearing critical information. Be careful not to overlook the contributions of people whose success also is tied to your success.
Listening Each Day
And, beyond the boss–employee relationship, there are literally dozens of other relationships in which we will be more successful when we simply remember to listen. From a casual chat to a heated argument, sometimes our focus on our own position can obscure what the other person is bringing to the table. Of course, this can be innocent, accidental, and/or unintended—but it still means we may be missing some significant information or insight. Listening isn’t always easy, and we might not like what we hear, but it is a very important skill that should be exercised regularly. Especially when it’s the most difficult time to listen, that’s when we’ll learn the most.