Did you ever play the “be quiet game” as a child? Whoever speaks or makes a sound first loses. Between the “be quiet game”, the “hold your breath the longest game” and other games like it, for many, times with childhood friends may have often turned into competitions. Competitiveness can be a good thing if harnessed and expressed the right way. So, how can competitiveness affect listening and what is the potential impact?
Have you ever been in a meeting with a know-it-all who simply dominates the conversation? While this person may be a subject matter expert, you may have experienced them as intellectually grandstanding to “show what they know” rather than really working to solve a problem and create an outcome. What about leaders who don’t listen, appear to be constantly directing and who do not stop long enough to ask or listen to others? The odds are that they are shutting down and discouraging those around them. In both cases their need to compete and win may be driving this assertive approach.
The idea then is to reshape our view of winning as it relates to listening. In his book, Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore opens with a simple, yet compelling concept. Coaching is about asking the right questions rather than providing instruction. In particular, in the business world, people grow and improve more through self-discovery versus being provided an answer. Asking the right questions involves listening and engaging people. Listening involves remaining quiet and paying attention.
It can be argued that almost all people have and will demonstrate the necessary ambition to succeed in their roles. It would be highly unlikely for someone to ask themselves, “How can I fail more today?” Ambition can be expressed in varying ways. One thing is for certain, we all like to be valued and listened to, especially when we are vested in the outcomes. In creating those outcomes, direct reports may often seek the counsel of their leaders. So what should leaders think about?
In his book The Tao of Coaching, Max Landsberg offers us the 4-step “GROW” model (Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up) for listening and encouraging self-discovery and problem solving among direct reports.
1. Goal: Ask the person what outcomes they are hoping to create and how you can best assist. You may even start by asking what they would like to walk away with as the result of the discussion. Then listen.
2. Reality: What does the person view as the current reality of the situation. What facts or perceptions are in play that are potentially affecting outcomes. Again, listen.
3. Options: Have the person explore what options are available to them to achieve the desired outcomes and have them evaluate the pros and cons to arrive at a solution. It may also be necessary to identify any resources or support required from you for action. Keep listening.
4. Wrap-up: Ask for the person to outline the next steps and timing and any communication back to you regarding outcomes. Listen and have them make the commitment to action.
In short, as a leader, if you speak first, you may lose. Ask, listen and coach and you are likely to see growth and greater performance among your team. For more coaching tips, both Coaching for Performance and The Tao of Coaching are recommended for improving these skills.
Post by Tom Cox.