A couple of weeks ago, when facilitating a session at one of our clients, we ran into a typical situation: Managers expressed frustration because decisions were too often implemented without them being consulted. They explained this led to suboptimal decisions and lots of inefficiencies. And they came up with some examples of current projects where they were kept out of the loop. Hearing this, the CEO became agitated: “Stop waiting for others to change! Take action! When you hear about a project that affects you, talk to the people in charge of the project. If it hasn’t been clear before – let me make it clear now: I want and I need you to speak up! Please take ownership!”.

There was a sense of relief in the room. The CEO had been clear. He didn’t want people to just execute as told! On the contrary – he wanted people to voice their opinion!

It sounded great – and the CEO meant what he had said… Except that, later in the conversation, each time people spoke up, the CEO interrupted them: “You are wrong…”; “Let me explain you…”; “You will have to learn to live with that…”. In fact, the CEO refused to take in whatever his managers were saying. He wiped away one intervention after the other as ‘stupid’ or ‘irrelevant’… 

We saw the disappointment and frustration welling up in the group…  And the CEO noticed it too – but he didn’t understand why this was happening. Because he wasn’t aware he had been cutting off all comments…

So typical – so human. We all assume we’re open minded… without realizing how often we cut off other people’s ideas when those don’t fit with ours… 

Reality is, in any interaction, it’s so important that people feel heard….

  • What happens when people don’t feel heard?
    They either keep repeating their point of view, or they disengage…

  • Meanwhile, do they listen to what you are telling them?
    No. It’s simple. As long as people think you don’t understand them, they consider that what you’re telling them is irrelevant.

  • What if you don’t agree with their perspective?
    it’s still important to show you get their point. Especially their underlying concern. Once they realize you understand their perspective, they will open up to your point of view. 

  • Is it important to integrate what they’re saying?
    Please DO. You don’t have to completely go their way. But, when you truly listen to them, chances are high there is something valid in what they’re saying. Why not come with ideas that take into account that valid point?

  • Where do I start?
    When people have expressed their point of view, you could for example say:
    –       So what I hear is…
    –       Would it help if…?

Here is what we learned and what we want to share with you: It’s not enough to tell people they’re allowed to speak up. What is crucial is that you truly listen when they do, and show you heard them. What they want to know is: ‘Are you listening to me?’ Once they realize you value their opinion, the conversation will become so much more productive. Which is what we want – isn’t it? 

If you require from people to speak without holding back, then you should require from yourself to listen without pushing back.  

 By the way – this works at home too.