When the mighty Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage 100 years ago, she was held as unsinkable. She was equipped with the most advanced technologies and safety features of the time. And yet just four days into the crossing, she struck an iceberg and sank. Tragically, 1,500 people lost their lives.
Why did the Titanic sink? Well, one theory is that messages warning that large icebergs lay in Titanic's path failed to reach the bridge. Employee feedback failed to be heard. The wireless radio operators believed that they were being paid to cascade messages to and from passengers. They did not consider that cascading non- essential messages through to the captain was part of their brief. How many messages about icebergs laying in the path of your organization are failing to reach the bridge because employee feedback is not heard - communication is regarded as talking, not listening? And as a result, by the time the icebergs are identified via employee feedback the response is often too little too late.
Neuroscientists tell us that no two people anywhere in the world see things exactly the same way, pay attention to exactly the same things, have the same map of reality. So where leaders communicate on the basis of how they see things, there's often a meaning disconnect. The meaning leaders think the message they are conveying is often different from the meaning employees derive because of the difference in context, in the way they see things. The only way to understand employees' view of the world is to listen to employee feedback. Setting up listening posts is an essential part of any information cascade because it affords insights into the employee's perspective
In addition to alerting your management team about any icebergs that may be heading your way, there's another benefit in setting up listening posts to tap into employee feedback. And that is that listening is the front end of decision making. Good listening that is the active and disciplined activity of seeking feedback and input from employees over all levels of the organization is key to understanding the assumptions that are underpinning proposed actions and proposed decisions. It's the surest and most effective way to collect employee feedback and to make fully informed decisions.
I think many leaders struggle as listeners because they believe their role requires them to know it all or, at least, act as if they know it all. And as a result, they avoid any situation that challenges that perception. And yet throughout my 28 year communication's career I've observed that good listeners tend to make better decisions based on better informed judgments and therefore are better leaders. Good listening also achieves another important goal of internal communication in that it ensures effective information cascade and helps to foster employees buy-in and commitment through involving them in helping determine the best course of action rather than just telling them.
Here are three communication tips for active listening and collecting employee feedback:
Almost 2,000 years ago, a wise great philosopher whose name I cannot pronounce said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." Very wise words. OK. That's it for this time. Hope to see you next time. Until then, happy communicating.
Lorri Lennon is an award-winning advisor, trainer and author in leadership communication. She has 20 years’ experience managing communications for large global organisations.
Lorri conducts master classes to help participants maximise their communications ROI.
Mariska Mannes is an experienced communication consultant. She holds a Master of Management majoring in Communication, which allows her to bring a blend of qualification and practical experiences to her training programmes. Her expertise is in business and cross cultural communication and behaviour. For more information visit Mariska's LinkedIn profile.