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Create A Culture of Listening In Your Meetings


In our last post, we wrote about how thriving organizational culture creates a space where the innate human desire to belong is met.

A very large part of belonging is being listened to, having your words and thoughts and point of view honored. Unfortunately, all too few of our organizations have cultures like this. Too many employees feel like cogs in a machine, interchangeable parts, not honored for their individuality. Our teams pay lip service to “people are our greatest resource” but all too often the implicit message is “Please be quiet and just do as you’re told”.

Nothing saps morale and decreases engagement faster than being told to keep your head down and cease to think for yourself. Nothing saps loyalty faster than feeling like you don’t have a say or a stake.

Organizations with thriving culture listen to their members. Particularly in meetings.

The best meetings aren’t one way monologues. They are an honest, open, frank exchange of ideas. They allow for creative and constructive conflict and are often free-flowing.

In other words, they can be scary for senior leadership!

Here are four ways to create a culture of listening, particularly if you are the one leading the meeting.

  1. Allow for silence. It’s easy to feel that you have to rush to fill every silence, to have all the answers, to know just where to take the group next. Resist that feeling. Sometimes, it’s best to slow things down to make sure that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity and that the group can absorb what has just been said.
  2. Respond with questions, not commentary or answers. Questions are immeasurably powerful and they honor the one being questioned IF their intent is not to interrogate or box in but rather to help the one being questioned hear more deeply what she is saying and communicate it more clearly to others.
  3. Protect the dissenting voices in the meeting. You’ve been there before. Someone says something that feels offbeat or threatening and the rest of the group responds with rustling papers, averted eye contact, jokes, or hostile silence. If you’re leading the meeting and a dissenting voice speaks, honor it as you would the voice that thoroughly agrees with you. Chances are, that dissenting voice has an element of truth the group needs to hear and honor. Most of all don’t let the dissenter be marginalized or shamed.
  4. Speak for yourself. Leaders of meetings don’t have to be experts or dictators, pushing the group towards a predetermined outcome. We know that members of organizations long to feel and believe that their leaders are trustworthy. Part of trust is honesty and authenticity. If the leader can also be a person – not just play a role – the rest of the group will gradually become more free to be themselves, which means that they will bring all of their gifts and talents and strengths to the team. This doesn’t mean that the leader is absolved of his or her responsibility to protect the mission above all else. That is a given. But the leader is not a mission automaton. She is a living, breathing person. It is OK – even necessary – to show this.

Every person in your organization has an innate desire to belong. If you create a culture characterized by active and receptive listening, your team will be drawn more deeply in to your mission and as a result your organization will be more productive and healthy.