How to Revolutionize Your One-on-One Meetings: Listen
I want to share a three-step process that I know will transform your one-on-one meetings with your people, and thus revolutionize your leadership. The steps are: Listen, Build, and Align. If you perform these steps consistently in every meeting with those you work with, I know the effectiveness of your leadership will skyrocket.
In my recent post, Leadership Happens One-on-One, I describe these steps briefly. Here, I want to give you a full expansion of the first step (Listen), and the other two in subsequent articles.
Before we start, remember that these steps do not have to be performed sequentially. While this order should be the general thrust, your goal in a one-on-one meeting is to accomplish all of these steps, regardless of their order. The reason this three-step process has been transformative for my leadership is because it is simple for me to remember and follow every time. And it works. Even if I may stray from this formula occasionally, I always do my best to guide the conversation back to targeting these three goals.
How much time should be allotted for each step? Though that will vary, a general rule of thumb for me is to allow about 65% of the meeting for listening, 20% for building, and 15% for aligning. This does not have to be exact, but we must remember that when we listen generously, intentionally, and strategically (I will explain how to do that below), and then build honestly and aggressively, the need to align our views will usually not require as much time or effort.
When it comes to meeting with people, here is what I have learned about listening.
Step One: Listen
Regardless how magnificent your vision is, if you have neglected to listen to your people, to know where they really are, you will not be able to reach your destination successfully. If they are not ready to come along with you, you will be going alone. And that is not leadership.
This next statement should be your guide to listening. Remember it. The goal in listening is not to hear what someone has to say; it is to get an inside look at someone’s heart. If I am listening to one of my team members for thirty minutes, but I don’t feel that they are opening up to tell me what they are really thinking or feeling, I consider that meeting a failure.
It is an intuitive sense that I feel. You know, when you have the kind of connection with someone, that both people feel free to share what they are really thinking and feeling? We gain special insight to the inner workings of the other person’s heart and mind. Be sure to share your heart and mind with them as well. People in strong relationships allow each other to see the raw, vulnerable side of themselves. They allow people into their inner sanctums.
Yes, we are at different levels with different people when it comes to this deep exchange. But there is no question that the deeper we go with a person, the more influence we have on their life, and the more they will have on ours. Listening, my friend, is the key to learning the inner thoughts, dreams, feelings, and habits of another person. And the more of these that we know, the more we can build, align, impact, and lead.
Listening, therefore, is the key to leadership.
Before You Start Listening
Before you start listening, remember three ways that we must listen.
- Generously—Don’t be stingy with your listening. Just sit back and take it all in. If you don’t have time to listen to your people, then you don’t have time to lead successfully. Re-prioritize if needed, so you can find the time to listen generously.
- Intentionally—Meaning, we should not listen because someone started talking. We should invite others to talk about what really matters to them and us, and then listen, as they share their hearts.
- Strategically—If a person is chatty, and wants to talk for thirty minutes about how they made their turkey for Thanksgiving, you must guide the conversation into what you think really hits home for them. Strategically ask questions that will bring the conversation to a more meaningful level.
How to Encourage People to Dig Deep While Listening
With Your Heart:
- Effective listening happens when we truly want to know a person’s opinions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles, and insecurities—never to manipulate that person, but to help them, to do our best to build them up, and to serve them. To give them the best we have, and to position them in the best possible place alongside us on the journey.
- Effective listening happens when we truly value and respect the other person as a partner, and not as an employee or staff member. When a CEO meets with the janitor, and truly values his or her opinion, listens to them as an equal (in worth, while not in position), this tells me that that CEO has done some growth as a leader.
Listening involves you, as the leader, creating a positive and inviting environment for people to share all that they are willing to reveal. This cannot happen if your heart is not in the right place. People can see your heart. You cannot hide it. Always work on it. Always try harder to see others as equals on the journey, or even better than you in many areas, because they are.
With Your Body:
- When you want to connect and listen to a person you value, do not sit behind a desk. The more of your body that is hidden, the more the subconscious message is sent that you want to be guarded.
- Be at the same or even a lower level than the other person. This communicates “I am with you, not above you.”
- Lean forward, to communicate that you are eager to hear. Or lean back in a relaxed posture, as if to communicate that you have all the time in the world for them.
- Pay attention, and make eye contact. There is nothing worse than someone’s mind and eyes wandering everywhere when you are trying to communicate with them.
- Don’t cover your torso with crossed arms or other objects. An open stance communicates an open mind and a willing spirit to listen.
The bottom line here, is to intentionally place yourself in a position of readiness to engage with the person you are meeting with.
With Your Questions:
- Here are some of my favorite questions to ask people during my one-on-one meetings with them:
- The best way to discover what is inside the heart and mind of another person is to ask them questions and just sit back and listen. Depending on the time allotted and the area that you are most interested in learning, you may want to ask a few specific questions. Remember that the art of asking questions is a powerful tool. Preparing thoughtful questions is crucial to your leadership.
- How are you doing? (This is a simple question. But when we are sincere, it can encourage people to open up.)
- How may I serve you?
- How can I make your job easier?
- What can I do for you?
- How are you growing?
- How can we improve as a team?
- How might I improve?
- Do you feel that you are working in your strengths?
- What are your dreams?
When to Stop Listening
Many times, I see leaders listening well, but then they stop while it is clear that the other person still had important areas to share. It is as if in their mind, they are saying, “Okay, I don’t have time for this. Or I don’t feel like listening anymore. Let’s move on to what really matters…which is telling you what I think.” Guard against this.
What is most important is not what you have to say to your people; it is what they have to say to you. The speed at which you progress depends greatly on where they are at, not where you are at. So how do you know you have listened enough? Simple. Wait for them to tell you so.
I use a method I call: “What else? What else? Anything else?” I learned this technique from years of listening to patients. As a doctor, truly listening to people is key to providing a correct diagnosis, and also key to making sure they feel they’ve been heard. While patients describe their symptoms, I do not interrupt. I just look at them with intently listening eyes, and say, “What else?” This open-ended question invites them to tell me more. I repeat that simple question several times. Usually the patient will stare forward a bit, thinking to see if there is anything else. Then they give me the magic words, “That’s all.”
Occasionally if they are going on at length, and I feel the conversation needs to move forward, I will ask, “Anything else?” It is a polite way to promote ending the exchange, while offering them one more opportunity to share any additional information. The technique in leadership, or patient care, is this: I do not move on until I hear, “That’s all,” or “That’s it.” When I hear those words (or something similar), they have acknowledged to me and to themselves that I have listened to all their concerns, ideas, or thoughts.
Now, that you have listened generously, intentionally, and strategically, step two is to build the other person. Remember that listening can happen throughout the meeting. But to best build and align, your listening must have been a success. Join me for the next two articles as I discuss the very important steps: Build and Align.
Actionable step: Next time you meet with someone, give your highest priority to listening to their heart. Be cognizant of your body language. Be prepared to ask questions. Wait to move forward until you know there is nothing else they need to express.
About me: I batted at Fenway Park (where Babe Ruth played) a few years ago, as a part of a conference I was attending.
For Further Reading: