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Influencing and developing the people around you has more to do with your ability to listen than your ability to speak. That applies to work, home, educational or social environments.

I’ve got a challenge for you.

Pay attention to what goes through your head when you next talk to someone (anyone). Leadership coach David Rock says you might discover that you practice several of the following approaches to listening:

  • Listening for opportunities to sound intelligent
  • Listening for a chance to seem funny
  • Listening for how you can sound important
  • Listening to get information you want
  • Listening to external distractions such as other noises, music, etc.
  • Listening for what’s going on with the other person
  • Listening to your own thoughts, and not listening at all
  • Listening to see how you can help
  • Listening to understand or assess the problem
  • Listening for how you can benefit
  • Listening for an opportunity to end the conversation

Some of these indicate poor listening. Some of these indicate better listening, but none reflect great listening. Even when you think you’re listening carefully, a lot of time is spent assessing, judging, thinking of responses, and coming to conclusions.

Such actions can seem like good leadership because it is expedient and, if you are competent, often a good course of action. But by taking this shortcut you miss opportunities to influence and develop the people around you in two important ways—both of which hurt you in the long run.

  1. When you reach quick assessments and conclusions you bypass the chance to help others develop their own insights or critical thinking
  2. When you provide answers and direction you foster dependence on your functioning instead of releasing others to independent action

The result: over time, your team (or family) becomes more and more dependent upon your overfunctioning, and they underfunction more and more. This increases your workload and frustration level, and lowers your energy, creativity, and efficiency.

And guess what? It increases their frustration and lowers their energy, creativity and efficiency, too. This creates a trap that can be avoided by learning to listen forward.

Listening forward is the work of developing thinking in those around you. THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS SIMPLY TELLING PEOPLE TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

Listening forward invites others to share their thinking in order to encourage awareness and motivation within them that will move them forward. It is listening that simply wants to know more about what others think without leading them to a solution.

Listening forward means you forego the temptation to give an answer when someone asks you what you think or what they should do. Listening forward means you regulate your own need to fix, control, or make others arrive at an outcome you desire.

Instead you could ask any number of questions like:

  • How much thought have you given this?
  • What insights do you have?
  • What does your best thinking tell you?
  • What do you think is important here?
  • How clear are you about the issues? Your role? What are you not clear on?
  • How important is this issue to you on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • What thoughts do you have about what’s getting in the way of you moving forward?
  • How might you consider this from another perspective?
  • What are the possible outcomes? What would need to change for one or more of these to happen?
  • What gives you hope? As you think about this, what gives you energy?

Don’t be tempted to give a quick solution or insight if you receive an, “I don’t know,” response to any of these questions. That is habit more than anything. Keep pressing: “What will it take for you to know? How important is it for you to know this? How might you find the answers?”

Start practicing these and you will take your listening to another level. You will be a better leader in the home and workplace. You will foster creativity and independence in others, and make you load a lot lighter in the process. 

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