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Lean In and Listen Effectively

By February 16, 2020Leadership
Lean In and Listen Effectively

Much can be gained from enabling and empowering employees to speak up in meetings. Leaders who Lean In and Listen Effectively are more likely to build equitable and inclusive cultures in which diverse people, and ideas, thrive.

Unfortunately, the reality for many employees is that progressive norms, such as workplace equality and inclusivity are distant ideals. For them, having to cope with autocratic leadership and the oppressive practices of conformity (and often collusion) it induces, is a daily struggle.

In identifying warning signs of a toxic culture, Forbes says to look no further than at a company’s informal grapevine. It’s a raised red flag if it functions more effectively as an internal communication network than the company’s official communications.

But dissenting conversation will always happen – whether among front-line employees or C-suite executives. Because people need to complain. It’s human nature to vent. What’s more, it’s not venting that causes the real harm.

The damage of mistrust

The damage comes when employees discuss important business issues away from management, and outside of meetings. This damage manifests as a deep lack of trust between employees and management.

Often, the concerns raised by employees in sideline conversations are often legitimate. Were they to be brought to light in frank and open discussions with management, employees’ concerns could be evaluated within a framework of proper risk management, with recourse to constructive change and action plans if strategic intervention was required.

But without open and transparent dialogue between management and employees, the inevitable happens: Communication breaks down to the point of total mistrust. People suffer. So does business.

Communication built on trust

The path back to trust starts with senior leaders helping to create an environment of psychological safety, in which employees can be candid and forthcoming about issues affecting the business.

Here are three positive practices to close the trust rift and move towards constructive dialogue:

Three ways to build trust and transparency


1. Develop people’s confidence

Building trust takes time. Start by inviting employees’ inputs and opinions. When these aren’t forthcoming, meet with employees one-on-one or in small groups. Talk about the benefits of perspective sharing and the value of diverse opinion and dissenting views. Ask questions directly and don’t shy away from awkward silences. If you have to circle a difficult issue before addressing it directly, do that. Remember confidence, like trust, builds slowly.

2. Lean in and listen

Fact: You are not always going to like what you hear. Stay put. Active listening requires that you suspend judgement, and that you offer your full and undivided attention to the person speaking. If the subject matter is difficult to hear, consider how much courage the person speaking has summoned in order to voice their concerns. Bring empathy into the conversational space. Think from the speaker’s point of view, and see the situation through their eyes.

3. Be available

A hallmark of a trustworthy leader is accessibility. Met with a closed door and an executive assistant who tells people, ‘He’s too busy to see you’, is a sure way to lose support. When employees come to visit, make time for them. It need not be right away, but schedule time for the discussion. People will quickly come to see that you make spending time with your employees a priority. The benefit will be in the positive relationships you build, and the opportunities that spring from them.

Rather than avoiding difficult conversations or forcing employees to have covert conversations, leaders who lean in and listen to their employees invariably come away with deeper insights, and deeper respect. Best of all, the respect goes both ways.

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton is the founder and chief strategist at Humanist, a culture-change agency that helps transform people for business success. Previously, she worked in human performance solution design, and advertising. She is a certified change manager (UCT), has a Bachelor’s degree in English (Wits), and has won several awards for her business writing, including a Silver Quill.

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