“The greatest compliment ever paid me was when one asked what I thought, and attended to my answer.” – Henry David Thoreau
I present in front of groups for a living and, as you can imagine, in order to be successful, among other things, I have to like talking. My father must have witnessed my love for talking when I was a kid because, one day he pulled me aside and said, “Jay, the Lord gave you two ears and only one mouth. Try to use them in the correct proportion.” I have heard this a few times since but never more clearly than at a recent seminar. The presenter’s topic was listening and she shared a technique that worked for her, and I now practice the same thing.
Hanging in my office, on a shelf just above the phone, is a sticky note that has three letters on it: S U J. It stands for, “Shut Up Jay.” It is a simple reminder that as much as I value my own opinion, I can learn a whole lot more listening to the other person.
With our employees, it is our natural tendency to try to fix it, or give them the solution we think they’re looking for. However, we will go further as leaders if we would just Shut Up Jay, Bill, Susan, and, Your Name Here, and really be present and listen to our employees. When we listen to employees, we allow them to have their voice. This is an easy way to show them how much you value them on a daily basis.
And whether you believe it or not, their voice matters more to the success of your company, and team, than yours does. Pete Cicero of Fiskars Garden Tools said, “[Our employees] aren’t just machines that are pumping out products. They’re living, breathing human beings that know more about a product, more about quality, and more about safety than you’re gonna know because they are living it and breathing it every day.”
Your employees are a huge resource for you. It’s one thing to say, “we know our employees are our most valuable resources. It’s another thing entirely to put that statement into practice consistently. Think of all the conversations you have with your team on a regular basis. If you aren’t really listening to them, not only are you missing out on great opportunities to build them up, think of the tactical and competitive advantage you are missing because they feel they can’t talk to you or that you don’t care.
Go out on the web this week and search for listening techniques. Write down the ones that resonate with your situation, and do yourself a favor: Shut Up and Listen!
Jay Larson is an international consultant, speaker and facilitator focused on helping individuals and organizations alike, create real, lasting and positive change.