Why not unleash the creative power in your workforce with the free and courageous act of inclusion? What do we have to lose?
Apparently most of us feel we have quite a bit to lose because of our fear of including the wrong person or group. Can we trust that this person will cover our back? Will they make a mistake and make me look bad? Are they trying to take away what’s mine? Our strongest survival instincts tell us to create a wall to protect ourselves and our family or group.
The strength of that instinct is determined by our upbringing and past experience. From birth we are taught who to trust and how much. Then, personal experience confirms our expectations. (Yes, it is a proven phenomenon that people usually perform according to our expectations.) This is why self-awareness is such an important leadership attribute. Without it we will go on excluding people from our trust circle without examining the validity of our assumptions—and wonder why we aren’t getting the results we wanted.
Exclusion violates the most basic human need to belong. (Don’t stop reading if you work in a macho environment or come from a culture where emotions are not shown.) A leader in a high uncertainty, competitive, physically hazardous environment cannot afford to violate this precept. Regardless of race or gender the people working with you want to be seen and heard. They want to know if what they see and hear is important to you. If they feel the answer is no, they stop trusting you. You sever your connection, which means they stop sharing information with you. They stop asking questions because they can’t afford to show their ignorance or be vulnerable. When that happens you risk loosing that piece of data that could have prevented a significant failure or led to an innovative break through.
If you are frustrated by people questioning the clarity of direction, by lack of implementation and follow up, or not following procedures, you are most likely not listening. If you were to try listening a little more intensely with an open mind, new facts and conditions would reveal themselves that would help you understand why things are the way they are and improve them. Listening and being helpful dissolves barriers to communication, getting the job done safely and more effectively. It is a leader’s most powerful tool to motivate and create a sense of belonging.
Yet, when problems start to appear our first self-protective reactions are to withdraw and exclude. In spite of multitudes of examples showing how leaders who listen are more successful, why is it still so rare? Here are two reasons that help us understand why listening is so hard. The first is that we don’t listen to people we don’t trust. That goes both ways. Leaders might not trust employees who they see as resistant to supporting change in the organization or willfully disregarding rules. Employees who feel unheard or hold onto previous negative management experiences also stop listening even when the message is attempting to make things better. This is a dilemma that can be resolved beginning with the leader’s acceptance to take responsibility to start listening to people s/he may not have included before and extending trust until a change occurs. This means not quitting after initial failures.
“Truly empathetic listening requires courage—the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones. But once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that turn would-be leaders into true ones.” Ram Charan
I found a second reason we are not good at listening that I did not know about in an article entitled, “The Science of Listening.” The author explains that our brains streamline what we hear to help us make faster decisions in response to danger and opportunity. Apparently, a short attention span for listening is an unconscious survival adaptation. That is why empathetic listening requires courage because you have to override the brain’s instincts to only focus on its own interests.
In past posts I’ve written about the importance of creating a safe space to speak up in our organizations so that people can bring up concerns without fear of retaliation. It takes courage to speak up because we have to overcome fears of exclusion or ridicule. Now, it looks like courage is the common thread for both listening and speaking up. If we don’t believe something is right we have to conjure up the courage to speak up. If someone says something we don’t think is right, we have to have the courage to listen with an open mind and examine that perspective. In both cases give yourself a little understanding if you don’t do well all the time. After all you are struggling to evolve very basic human survival instincts to another level. That takes courage.
For more background on this topic you may see my last post liking inclusion to workplace safety. Please comment and share your reactions.