A great listener in a distracted world

In a challenging, highly-competitive healthcare environment, being a leader who truly listens can be a great differentiator.

But it is not easy. Good listening often takes a back seat to the demands of time pressure, stress and decision-making. Our innate desire to listen and understand often bows to the siren calls of voicemails, text messages, and e-mails. And sometimes we just don’t have the patience or mental focus to listen as well as we should.

But listening well is vitally important in the healthcare ecosystem and it is something that almost every leader can improve. Here are seven reasons why working to become a better listener will be a shrewd investment.

Superb listeners make fewer mistakes. In the long run leaders who listen carefully are going to gather more information, hear more perspectives, and take more time making key decisions. We know that mistakes can be embarrassing, expensive, and sometimes much worse, so there is a clear efficiency argument for being a superb listener. As obvious as it seems, many mistakes can be avoided or mitigated simply by slowing down and listening better.

Superb listeners are deemed more trustworthy. Listening well to others positions you as a thoughtful, responsible and collaborative professional, regardless of your field. Good listening is a behavioral cornerstone for building the rapport and empathy than underpin credibility and trust. If you genuinely want others to trust you, an effective way to get there is to consistently listen to them. This requires an investment of time, energy and focus, but the payoff is there.

Superb listeners have more motivated, collaborative teams. In our fascination with digital technologies and ‘the latest thing’ we can overlook a fundamental truth about human nature: people want to be heard and acknowledged. Even if we don’t agree with everything they say, people want to be listened to and taken seriously. And this extends to teams: productivity and morale are almost always higher on teams where good listening is the norm and leaders model the behavior.

Superb listeners tend to be heard. An interesting thing about listening is our tendency is pay greater attention to those people who are genuinely listening to us. And if I am attentive and listen carefully to others, they will be more likely to listen to me. But if I interrupt a lot and listen poorly, people will be inclined to treat me the same way. So superb listening can subtly influence others: the more effectively I listen, the more inclined they will be to listen to me.

Superb listeners notice details. A corollary benefit of great listening is noticing nuances of communication that we might have missed before. This can be particularly useful in meetings and negotiations: the outstanding listener is more likely to pick up on ‘little’ things like voice inflection, slight hesitations and silences, frowns and smiles, and changes in body language. So investing time and ‘bandwidth’ in listening well can provide nuanced and valuable insights.

Superb listeners are distinctive. The sad truth is that relatively few top leaders are great listeners: they may be too busy, too distracted or perhaps too self-absorbed to listen effectively. Whatever the case, listening offers healthcare leaders and would-be leaders an opportunity to enhance a fundamental skill that is both practical and visible. Being a leader who truly listens can indeed be a great differentiator.

Superb listeners suspend their agendas. This is the skill that tends to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘great’: the capacity to temporarily set aside one’s own concerns and priorities to really hear those of the other person. It takes practice and a degree of mental agility, but developing the capacity to suspend your agenda is a great way to raise your game as a listener and a leader.

Today’s healthcare leaders operate in a demanding and competitive world, and being a superb listener will make you even more effective. Make the investment.

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