Good leaders take time to listen

Jul 3, 2023 | Leadership

The American writer, poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, famously said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ These words are often quoted, as there is an essential truth in them that resonates with many people, but it is interesting to reflect on what we can really do to influence how we make people feel, particularly in relation to leadership skills.

How people feel in the workplace is related to a myriad of different elements – team relationships and dynamics, how stimulated they are by their work, having a sense of learning and personal development and more. In my coaching work there is an element that comes up time and again, however, as a source of discontentment and sometimes real unhappiness. That is a sense of not feeling valued.

If we think carefully about relationships we have (inside or outside the workplace) where we feel properly valued, it will almost certainly involve an awareness that the person has time for us. Enough time to talk about the small stuff as well as the bigger issues. Enough time to ask how we are and how we’re feeling. (One of the reasons that the coaching relationship can be so fruitful, is that the coach takes time to focus intently on the client, which is something they often feel they don’t have elsewhere.)

It is taking time for people, to hear what they really feel or have to say, that helps them feel valued.

It is generally accepted (if not always explicitly acknowledged) that the way we function professionally at any one time is the result of both work-related and personal dynamics. Allowing time to hear about both, therefore, can only be a good thing.

So, how can managers and leaders make sure they allow time for their team? Not just to help deal with any emergencies, or talk about important things, but time to really listen to team members’ wider concerns that might be affecting how they feel and their performance.

Awareness of how we react to a request for a conversation is key.

We are all familiar with that uncomfortable feeling when you need to discuss something with someone but feel as though you are walking on eggshells asking for time to talk. If the response is something like “Can it wait? I am very busy right now”, or “I have an important meeting to prepare…” we feel alone with the problem and, significantly, unvalued and unsupported.

Of course, all leaders and managers have packed schedules, but the way the response is handled goes a long way to maintaining trust and supportiveness despite this. An alternative answer might be “I really want to talk to you about this. Would 2 o’clock be possible?” or “It is important for me that I have the time I need to hear your views. Can we talk in an hour when I have finished my report?” In this way the team member feels heard there and then, and can also feel confident that they will be heard in more detail later on. Time has been set aside for them and this is indication of their being valued. There is quite simply a generosity that comes with making ourselves available to talk that makes for better relationships and stronger leadership.