Are We Really Listening?

15 questions to discover your life purpose communication defining my purpose definite purpose employee engagement engagement human behavior individual purpose leaders purpose leadership leadership purpose leadership purpose statement leading with a clear purpose leading with purpose listening organizational purpose providing purpose in the workplace relationships team May 15, 2024
15 questions to discover your life purpose

OK, it’s time for complete transparency… How often have you asked someone how they’re doing and prayed their response was limited to just one word? So maybe you didn’t come to a complete stop and get done on one knee, but I’m guessing you’ve definitely had a time or two where you asked that question hoping the reply didn’t suck you in, or even slow you down! Make no mistake, I’m not throwing stones here. I’m as fast-paced and as task-oriented as anyone you’ll even deal with. I’m at least as guilty of this as you are, probably much more so. But a reality of leadership is that we’ll never be able to recognize what makes our team members tick if we’re not willing to discipline ourselves to actually listen to what they’re telling us.

Before you tune me out, I need you to remember that I understand all you’ve had to juggle since you accepted responsibility for leading others. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t have dozens more items on my to-do list than I could possibly check off, and that’s before the phone calls, text messages, or emails asking for some input on this or help with that. Even that’s manageable though when it’s for a client who genuinely appreciates the help or a business partner who’s always there when we need them. It’s a bit harder to handle (read: tolerate) when it’s someone who’d “like to pick your brain” but can’t find time to ever respond when the shoe is on the other foot.

Now that I’ve proven that I can relate, at least somewhat, to all the irons you have in the fire, I’ll challenge you to consider just how important it is that we invest the time necessary to truly listen to our team members when we ask them anything - even their response to the “how are you?” we asked out of habit when we may not even want to know…

Before moving on, I will share that there are times where I’ve learned that I absolutely must set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and there are some folks who have earned a simple response saying that I have very little brain left to be picked. I’m sure many would argue that I didn’t have much to spare to start with… And I’m just not wired to not respond at all, even to those who refuse to respond to me unless they’re asking for something; not responding is just plain rude. If I’m gonna be rude, I’d much rather it be in my actual response!

Hear me loud and clear on this: when we’ve accepted responsibility for leading a team, the times where we can operate on “Do Not Disturb” are few and very far between! Regardless of all the fires burning our backsides at any given time, slowing down enough to listen to what they’re telling us can be something that provides as much return as any other thing we invest our time in. Much like any other long term investment though, we won’t likely recognize the return immediately. Each time a team member shares something, it’s a deposit into their account. As we give them more and more reason to continue making those deposits, we’ll be able to develop a picture of who they really are and why they’ve chosen the current path their on. 

Over time, we can learn about their past, their hobbies, their families, and even the goals they hope to accomplish - in and out of the workplace. Investing the time to do this, and I’m being very intentional about using the word investing here instead of simply saying taking or spending, builds strong relationships with the folks on our teams. I experienced the power of this during the decade or so I was responsible for the behavior-based safety process where none of the participants reported directly to. Those relationships paid even higher dividends when I moved into a full time human resources role after that.

While that process of listening to what people shared with me took years to learn the necessary information to recognize what makes each person tick, I’ve learned that it can happen much faster. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions so that’s what we’ll look at next.