Respect Through Listening

Posted on April 21, 2010


Team Leadership, photo from

Many will claim that the difficulty in conveying our message across to our listeners accurately is what makes communication so hard. Here, we will look at why listening to messages from our team may be harder, and how learning to do so is essential to maintain respect for our team members.

As leaders, we often hear advice like “listen first, then speak”, or “seek first to understand, then be understood”. Indeed, such conventional wisdom often bears much truth. All too often, many leaders, from ground managers to senior executives, get too caught up in their grand plans that they forget this elementary yet essential leadership lesson. I’m sure that for all of us, at some point of our leadership journey, we have committed this mistake in leadership. Perhaps, some of us are still committing this error today. We focus on the points that we want to drive home, we focus on the results and our interpretation of it, and we focus on wanting to get things done as quickly as possible to meet the deadline. In all this, we sometimes neglect to seek the opinion of our team members, we sometimes override the objections of the team members without even hearing it, we sometimes become blind to blatant signs of discomfort of our team members, and plough on anyway.

While this definitely gives rise to communication breakdowns, it is so harmful for team dynamics due to its blunt disrespectful nature. Apart from creating much frustration in the team, a failure to listen on the part of the leader sends out the subtle message that what they have to say is far more important than what the other team members have to say, whether he feels this way or not. Naturally, this creates a feeling of not being respected and heard on the part of employees, which may result in them not buying-in to the ideas of the leader since they felt that they did not have a chance to voice their views on the matter. It could also generate low self efficacy in the team members who feel that their views are not significant. These just serve to highlight the sheer importance of listening to others as a form of respect.

It is not enough to just listen. Many times, leaders and managers, in their effort to listen to their team members, simply ‘hear’ what the team members say rather than ‘listen’. The difference being that the former is a passive process which does not involve processing, whereas the latter is an active process involving processing. This means to say that rather than putting our mind on ‘auto’ while hearing our team members out, we should take their comments and feedback seriously and not just brush it off.

Respecting our team members by listening to them is an active process of listening to their concerns and issues, and critically consider them. This reassures them that their ideas have been heard and addressed by their leader, and play an important part in shaping the decision of a team.

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