Leadership Series: The Art of Listening

06-11-2012 7:28 AM

Mary Kay’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Beth Lange, shares another post in our Leadership Series.

Mary Kay’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Beth Lange

I have a weakness. I am not a natural listener. Just ask my mother or husband.

Early in my career, I approached most of my discussions in graduate school or at work with some version of, "I am smart, so listen to what I am saying." It wasn’t because I felt I needed to prove myself. It was mostly because I wanted to get ahead, and getting ahead meant convincing people of my point of view. Another weakness was that I was always thinking of the next topic - my topic.  Instead of staying in the moment and listening to what was being said, I was thinking of what I wanted to say next.

Luckily, I took a negotiations training course that changed my perspective dramatically. In the course, we practiced listening with only one objective in mind: comprehending what the speaker was saying. That is to say, listening to understand what the person was trying to convey. We were not allowed to critique, nor tell the speaker whether we thought they were right or wrong. It took some training, but "wow" what a different perspective that brings to the conversation!

Over time, I also learned the art of 'active listening.' Active listening is a great fit for me because it requires that I fully engage. It forces me to slow down and listen to the person I am speaking with to the point of being able to parrot back their thoughts in a summary to check for agreement. Active listening was highly useful to me when I first joined Mary Kay and had so much to learn about the organization. Plus, it really helped me connect with people and understand their perspectives.

The art of listening is critical as you become a senior leader. It is a lot less about convincing people of your point of view and more about listening and benefiting from sometimes complex information in order to get the best out of the people you work with. Listening for comprehension helps you get that information. But it is more than that. It also is the greatest sign of respect you can give someone.