Take time to listen and give feedback!

Take time to listen and give feedback!

2023. February 20.

Good listening and feedback skills are essential to any leader’s success – but they are rare these days, says Dr. Vicki Halsey, a principal at The Ken Blanchard Companies®.

As today’s leaders struggle to find enough time to at least do their own work, it’s easy for listening and giving feedback to take a back seat. The result: an effective but cold relationship between managers and employees, where the goal is to solve the problem as quickly as possible. On the surface, this may seem like a good goal, but in practice it leads to a situation where we increasingly use only quick fixes to speed up the process. With this approach, the leader only listens long enough to understand the problem, organize his thoughts and produce the answer.

Halsey says: „Benevolent leaders are focused on getting the task in front of them done as quickly as possible. Because they are so results-oriented, it’s easy to see only the end goal and not care about how to achieve it. It is important to remember that listening and giving feedback are important stages on the path to personal development. The most successful leaders will be those who keep both the end and the path to it in mind.”

Three essential elements of effective listening

To help leaders learn to slow down and focus on developing their employees to become excellent and successful workers, Halsey proposes a three-step EAR model: Explore, Acknowledge and Respond. The key to the process is to remember to take the time to fully Explore the problem that your employee is raising. This requires asking clarifying questions. Then we Acknowledge what was said and the emotions behind it before moving on to the third step, Respond.

  • Explore –Ask open-ended questions such as, „Can you elaborate on this?” and „How do you think this would work?” and „What does this actually mean?”
  • Acknowledge – Respond with comments such as, „You obviously feel…” or „So, I understand you to be saying…”
  • Respond – now that you understand exactly what the employee’s point of view is, you can gently introduce possible responses.

Halsey says: „Usually when we hear someone out, it’s very hard to resist jumping ahead to Respond to solve the problem.” Good listeners stop and take a moment to really understand the situation before responding.”

And there is a common misconception about Acknowledging that to be a good listener, one must actually agree with everything that is said. This is not the case here: the aim is to make it clear that we understand exactly what is said, i.e. that we are on the same page.

Advice for leaders

Models are important when it comes to listening or giving feedback, but you must have the right attitude first, says Halsey. It starts with understanding the value of better listening and feedback in building mutually beneficial relationships based on trust.

Once this is in place, the manager can apply an appropriate model to give some structure to the process.

Leaders tend to get stuck on this because they feel they can create the most value by sharing their experience – in other words, by talking. These well-intentioned leaders see their role as helping by sharing their experience. The result is that they will only pay attention for as long as it takes to formulate a solution – which can undermine motivation.

Instead, Halsey says, leaders need to be open to being influenced, even surprised, by what they hear. Sometimes leaders find it difficult to listen – especially if they have been in their post for a long time, because they are already confident that they know what their employees are trying to say.

When a leader improves their listening and feedback skills, they strengthen their personal relationships and express their respect and appreciation for the role and skills that their employee has. It makes people feel that this is the kind of workplace where they can bring their grey matter and use it.

Feedback and emotions

One of the particular challenges that even the most experienced managers struggle with is how to deal with the emotions that often surround workplace conversations? In Halsey’s experience, managers often miss opportunities to connect with their staff because they fail to acknowledge the uncomfortable emotions that often accompany problems.

Halsey says: „Research on emotional intelligence shows that if we don’t manage emotions, they only get stronger – which can later become a problem. As human beings, we often avoid things like emotions and vulnerability. Instead, we prefer to keep the conversation within the ‘acceptable’ range of feelings and avoid the unpleasant ones. This, unfortunately, stifles the deep connection we could gain by finding out what someone is really going through.

That is, for example, when someone doesn’t meet our expectations, the leader may react in this way: „Come on, make the numbers” – but that doesn’t really help anyone. It’s important that the leader engages in real dialogue and gives feedback or corrects behavior even if it’s uncomfortable. In this way, managers and their staff will experience the relief of having everything out in the open.

How do we start the hearing?

For leaders who want to improve their listening skills, Halsey suggests the following:

  • Start by sharing your intention with your team: you want to improve your listening skills. Find out what your colleagues think of you in this area.
  • Take some time to recognize that each member of your team is an individual. The better you understand each of their individual needs, the better the relationship you can build with them.
  • Remember: listening means keeping quiet! This creates the space to explore and acknowledge before responding. Make sure you consider: do you really need to share your thoughts? Or is it just that your colleague needs some „airtime” to process his or her own thoughts?
  • Set an example by regularly asking your colleagues for feedback and asking how you are doing.

Finally, Halsey advises: rethink what it looks like when you lead your people well? Is it possible that everyone is so focused on getting tasks done that they’re not paying attention to the process? Is it possible that better listening could create the space to help teams prepare for the unexpected, innovate more freely, and solve problems collaboratively, which is better than looking solely at results? In most cases, paying attention to both the goals and the process will lead to better results and better relationships, creating a win-win situation in the short term and a successful longer term for our employees who push the organization’s cart.

Further news:

Contact us