Leaders, Listen Deeply, Especially Now

Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply. ~Stephen Covey

Whether the topic is the pandemic, politics, or the postal service, what I see is a lot of people talking (or yelling) at each other and basically getting nowhere. What we see on the public stage these days may not be all that different from what we see day to day in organizations. The lost ability to listen deeply.

Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

To listen deeply we must remove any threats for the other person(s) to openly share what they are thinking and feeling. We need to create and extend psychological safety. A climate in which people feel safe expressing ideas, concerns, feelings, and perspectives without fear of embarrassment, ridicule, or retribution.  

If someone feels a threat, their fight-or-flight response may be triggered. When we feel threatened we literally have a physical reaction that causes tunnel vision. If we see a physical threat, our pupils dilate so we can be more observant of the threat. Our peripheral vision shrinks, reducing our field of vision to a tight circle in front of us so we can be more focused on the immediate threat rather than other details. We then have tunnel vision.

That same tunnel vision occurs when we sense any kind of threat – physical or social. We literally can’t think straight which only increases the feeling of being threatened. Feeling threatened blocks our creativity, reduces our ability to solve problems, and makes it harder for us to communicate and collaborate with others.

How do leaders create psychological safety to listen deeply?

Try using the SCARF Model. It was developed by David Rock as a brain-based model for collaborating with others.

S – Status – your relative importance to others. It’s about feeling cared for, respected, and valued; knowing where you fit. You know that it’s okay to be clumsy in what you say because it’s safe. Don’t devalue another’s perspective by trying to explain it away.

C – Certainty – your ability to predict the future. You can predict the future if you are in the loop, you know what’s going on, you have the same information as other people. Share information often and generously.

A – Autonomy – your sense of control over events. When you are given choices you have a sense of control. You get to choose what and how you share. Create multiple means for others to choose how they provide input and interact.

R – Relatedness – how safe you feel with others. You feel like you belong and are a part of the group. You receive cues about warmth, curiosity, and openness to your perspective. Instead of disagreeing, ask to help you understand their perspective.

F – Fairness – how fair you perceive the exchanges between people. You feel like people are treated impartially. The expectations are the same for everyone. Never show favor or exclude people intentionally.

Create psychological safety. Listen deeply. Lead with bold grace.

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