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Making an effort to listen ups morale

During the time I worked in the coal mine as a supervisor, I was taking classes in guidance and counseling in conjunction with my masters degree. Several classes were focused on listening. When back on shift, I was ferrying one of my crew members, Rick, to weld a broken rail. In transit, we had to switch off the main line track to allow a haulage motor to pass. While waiting, I decided to practice my listening skills and turned to Rick with an open-ended question, “How’s it going, Rick?”

Rick looked up a little surprised, paused a few seconds, and began self-disclosing, “My life sucks.” I followed up with, “Why? What’s the matter?” “My wife just left me, took my two kids, and is living with my former best friend. On top of that, I’ve been having flashbacks from my time in Vietnam and I’ve just been diagnosed as having MS.”

I was almost in shock with the load he was carrying and shared, “That is an awful lot for any one person to deal with, I sympathize. I don’t know if I could handle it.”

Rick continued by elaborating on his frustration and feelings of helplessness. Eventually, I asked, “Do you have someone who can help you talk about all of this?” I realized that with my meager listening skills, I was over my head.

Plus, therapy was not my role with Rick. He indicated that he was talking to a psychologist at a VA hospital and it was helping. I followed up from time to time and I believe he appreciated my concern.

Listening is a set of skills that need to be practiced. I find talking is easier than listening. To be an effective listener one has to focus on the other person and concentrate to understand his/her message. But just understanding the message and caring about the person is not enough.

You need to know what to do with the message. Usually, the message is about the business or small talk. Sometimes the process involves allowing someone to get something off his/her chest. It is important to understand whether you need to give advice or to just listen.

Good leaders spend time just listening to followers with no ulterior motive. This behavior engenders respect for the leader and opens up communication. With today’s business pace, I find leaders are spending less time listening to employees.

Spend a week and dedicate 15 to 30 minutes a day listening to employees you have neglected. Have a couple of open-ended question ready to start the conversation such as, “How is everything going. You have everything you need? Having a good day?” With this effort you will see the communication change and observe indicators of higher morale. At first, employees may be surprised if this behavior is very different from your normal behavior. Soon, however, people will appreciate you and your behavior.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his website, raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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