What is something everyone needs to learn but few know how to do well? I was recently asked this question, and I responded: Listening to understand, not just to respond.
Most people hear, but hearing is not the same as listening. As a leader, listening is the most powerful skill you have, and great listeners are a dime a dozen. Listening, is how you can tell if someone will be a great leader. Great listeners understand that leaders who don’t listen will find themselves surrounded by silence.
When someone gets promoted to a leadership position, they have to listen more than they speak because now they are building and leading a team. Psychological safety is a key component of successful teams, so they have to create an environment where people “feel safe” to speak up, to express themselves without fear of being seen as dumb or ignored, without fear of retribution.
The concept of psychological safety comes from Amy Edmondson, author of the book Fearless Organization. For me, creating psychological safety with their team members is priority #1 for leaders. How? Again, it starts with listening to understand.
And to get meaningful answers, a leader has to ask thoughtful questions. I bookmarked the following tweet from Adam Grant a few months ago and, is has a sketch of 6 questions leaders can ask to create psychological safety with their teams.
Leaders who fail to listen ultimately find themselves surrounded by silence.
You don't get chosen to take charge unless you give good answers. You won't be able to make change unless you ask good questions.
Learning depends on making it safe for people to tell you the truth. pic.twitter.com/uFAiUqVxyC
— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) November 30, 2021
Here’s the full image:
6 questions to create psychological safety with your team members:
- What’s the thing you see me doing that’s helping me best contribute to the team?
- What’s the thing I do that’s distracting from our success?
- What’s one thing I need to know about you that will improve our relationship?
- What’s the one thing you need from me that will enable you to be successful?
- What’s one gift, skill or talent you have that I’ve overlooked, under-valued or under-utilized?
- What motivates you and how can we bring more of that to your work?
Ask your team members these questions, listen to them intently. You are listening to understand, not just to respond. As a leader, what steps have you taken to create psychological safety in your team?
Bottom line: The late General Colin Powell once said, “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.” Leaders must take this to heart because to create successful teams, they have to listen more than they speak and create an environment where it’s safe for people to express themselves, speak up, without fear of retribution.