No matter who you are or what you do, this one habit can change your life.
From building stronger relationships to absorbing more information than ever before, making this simple change is the secret to success. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Ninety-seven percent of business leaders, HR leaders and consultants agree that it can make or break an organization.
So, what is it? If you guessed positive thinking, you’re on the right track—but that’s not the answer. The answer is listening.
Research shows that good listeners are more persuasive, foster better work relationships and collaborate more effectively. Listening is crucial no matter your position at a company but especially so for leaders.
Unfortunately, few leaders actually do it. According to one study, executives consult their teams less than 30 percent of the time when making important decisions.
What these executives don’t understand is that they’re doing both their employees and themselves a disservice by not listening.
They’re missing out on the wealth of information their team can provide, as well as foregoing collective commitment to any decision they make. On top of that, they’re losing heaps of money in employee burnout and turnover.
I’ve written about the importance of employee happiness before, and listening is the foundation of it. Among its many benefits, listening makes employees more productive, more engaged, more trusting in their boss and less likely to quit.
Listen Like You Mean It
Listening is important at every level of an organization, not just among leadership. After all, it’s a critical feature of effective communication.
However, there’s a huge difference between hearing someone and really listening to them. That may sound obvious, but research shows very few practice the latter. In fact, the average person retains only 25 to 50 percent of what they hear.
That means every time you talk to someone—be it your employee, your friend, your spouse—you’re lucky if they remember even half of what you say. Humbling, isn’t it? No wonder miscommunications happen so often.
That’s why it’s important to practice active, not passive, listening. The difference between the two boils down to one thing: Empathy.
Empathy is a powerful force when it comes to building relationships, resolving conflicts, persuading others—basically anything and everything that pertains to interpersonal interactions.
If putting yourself in another’s shoes feels unnatural to you, just know it’s a learned trait, so as long as you’re willing to practice it, it will come.
A simple technique I use to ensure that I understand someone’s perspective is to pose this question: “What are you seeing that I’m not?”
The best way to empathize with someone is to ask questions. How can you understand someone if you don’t know what they’re thinking?
What makes every individual unique is that no two people react to a situation in the exact same way. There’s bound to be discrepancies in opinion, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s great! Diverse thinking is the foundation of good decision-making.
Embrace the differences, but first understand that they exist. That’s the only way to find resolve.
The L.E.R. System©
In order to ensure my business’s success, I’ve instilled empathy into our company culture. One way I’ve done it is by teaching my employees what I call the L.E.R. System.
Listen, Evaluate, Recommend: Those are the three components of the system. Whenever a disagreement arises, the last thing I want is for my employees to waste time and energy bickering over something that could’ve been solved in a matter of seconds had they only made the effort to understand each others’ perspectives.
After all, the times when we need to listen most is in the face of conflict.
Life isn’t black and white, and no situation has a totally right or wrong answer. When you listen before you act, you realize that your opinion isn’t the only one of value.
The L.E.R. System forces you to do just that. It prevents people from reflexively spouting their opinions—as we so often tend to do. Instead, they make the effort to process what the other person means before sharing an alternative.
When both parties use the system, it’s a fast-track to understanding. The first step, however, is to make the effort.
Mutual understanding doesn’t just happen. You have to work for it.