The power of listening with curiosity

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

By next year, the Millennials (young professionals from age 20-39) will form 50% of our global workforce. Millennials as the generation of professionals who seem to have quite different expectations from their employers than we were used to in any of the previous generations – and that is the reason why they expect different qualities from their leaders.

Rather than professionals with fixed skills-sets, Millennials want to be perceived as individuals with specific personalities, opinions, sets of values and strengths. They want to grow and they are open to learn and acquire new skills once they feel recognized for their unique qualities.

It is not sufficient anymore for a leader to just perceive their team as one entity – to maintain their team’s engagement and attention, they need to acknowledge each individual. Does that sound overwhelming? By implementing a coaching culture in the work environment, it can be much easier and more rewarding than one might have imagined.

The first step you can take as a leader is to simply listen, really listen. Listen in a way that makes you truly understand your people and to make them feel seen, recognized and empowered.

What makes it so difficult to really listen? We all have certain experiences, baggage, beliefs and assumptions. They are an inseparable part of who we are and we might not even realize we have them. In many cases, they help us to be more efficient, to not waste time with situations we have already dealt with before. But by not focusing on the other person, we are cutting ourselves off from a real connection and understanding.

It is very important to be mindful of situations where we function on autopilot and once we notice it happening, come back to the present moment.

As a coach, I strongly believe that our own curiosity is the best tool to empower others. Yes, we all tend to make assumptions that we know where the other person is coming from and what it is they are wishing to express. But how would it be, for once, to try to be curious just like a little child? Our experience is valuable. By curious listening to the experiences of others it can expand even more.

How could you start using your curiosity in listening as a leader today?

1. Listen with an open mind

Each person is unique, and just like us, they have their own, unique qualities, beliefs and experiences. Can you give them space to fully express themselves and make sure you understand? Once you catch yourself making a conclusion, can you let it go and give the other person space by asking for clarification?

2. Ask powerful questions

Open and short questions signify the minimum of assumptions and offer maximum space for the other to explain. Don’t do all the hard work. Let the other side express themselves. Ask follow-up questions such as “How do you see it”, “What is your real challenge here” and let them find their own solution.

3. Listen for what is NOT said

Can you tell that there is a discrepancy between the body posture of your colleague and their words? Can you tell that something truly matters to them just by the excitement you see on their face when they talk about something? Tell them. Articulate what you see. Trust your intuition. You might be surprised by the impact you create.

Being seen and understood is one of the most rewarding experiences, not only in the workplace. Try it. Get comfortable with not offering any solutions. Empower your people, make them grow and let them grow you.

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