I recently had a client comment that the most valuable role their leader played during a change in their organization was “patiently listening to me, not correcting or defending, just listening to me as I worked to come to terms with the change”. The employee was able to move forward as a result of the effective listening skills demonstrated by their leader. The comment made me wonder how many of us take the time to really listen to our employees during times of change.
So much change communication is focused on “Telling”. Sharing the business case, reinforcing the mission and vision, explaining what is changing, describing the end state, painting the picture of what it will look and feel like when we arrive, sharing the implementation plan, etc. All of this is critical, no doubt, but the real skill is not in the “Telling” but in the “Listening”.
Think about a recent change, how well did you communicate details of the change? After the “Tell”, how much time did you take to listen to concerns, questions, thoughts from your employees? Did you effectively make the shift from the telling to listening?
As the leader, you need to intentionally follow the “Telling” with “Listening”. You need to actively listen. Active listening is a critical change management skill. According to Kathryn Robertson (Active Listening: More than just Paying Attention), active listening involves giving free and undivided attention to the speaker, listening with interest and appreciating without interrupting. Active listening is not waiting for your turn to speak. Active listening requires you listen with your whole self. During change, as the leader, you need to create the space to listen, to seek opportunities to engage with the team, taking the time to understand the different perspectives of your team members, hearing their concerns and listening to how they are feeling.
Engaging in this form of active listening has a twofold impact. The employee feels valued and respected. They feel their voice is heard. You as the leader, are better informed and more equipped to manage your team through the change. Both are critical inputs to successfully managing change.
So next time you are experiencing an organizational change, and you want to help your employees, be the leader who plays the most valuable role and take the time to listen. Give it a try, and you will see how appreciated your role as listener really is.