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Why Aren’t More Product Managers Good Listeners?
Research shows that listening is a vital leadership skill, so why aren’t more managers good listeners?
I have been doing a lot of thinking about this lately and came upon some interesting articles that catalyzed me to think a little more about an important attribute for business people. Here are a couple:
When I was a kid, my mom, teachers, and others said that I only listened to what I wanted to listen to. We’re all guilty.
However, as product managers and business leaders, we often must try harder to listen with greater intent.
We not only have to listen to what people say, but how they say it and how they act. No secrets here. Learn about listening to create better products and so many other Product Management Essentials. Join us for a public workshop, and take your career to the next level >>
However, we have more ‘listening posts’ than ever, via social media and so on.
Our customers talk to us; are we listening properly? Our competitors are talking; are we listening properly? The world’s conversations are taking place at hyper-speed; are we listening.
I thought I’d go back to some basics to remind us that this skill can be fine-tuned with some discipline and hard work.
1. Be an active listener. Good conversation is multi-directional. If you want meaningful interactions with other human beings, you have to get outside of yourself. Don’t talk “at” people; engage in dialogues. Put away your smartphone, stop letting your mind wander, and focus on the person in front of you. Treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn something new. Play detective. Pay attention to body language. Watch for non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Monitor how the other person responds to you. Is she engaged? Does she understand what you’re saying? Is she anxious to share a comment or suggestion?
Meetings and presentations can bring out the Neurotic Nellies in all of us. We get so consumed by our anxieties, we forget to pay attention to our colleagues. Develop a new attitude. In meetings, stop worrying about what you’re going to say, and instead focus all your energy on engaging with the people sitting across from you.
2. Be empathetic. Former President Bill Clinton is famous for his charismatic, “man of the people” persona, which he cultivated long before he took office. During his 1992 campaign, Clinton was fielding audience questions on a TV show when he was confronted by an AIDS activist who accused the American government of “11 years of neglect.” Before launching into a more political response, Clinton uttered a quintessentially empathetic phrase that charmed voters and became emblematic of his empathetic leadership style: “I feel your pain.”
Empathy is that thing that happens when you relate to someone to such a degree that his pain becomes your pain. It starts with compassion. If compassion doesn’t come naturally to you, learn to approach conversations with a sort of observational distance. When another person is talking, ask yourself what he’s actually trying to communicate. Delve into subtext. Is he excited? Hurt? Frustrated? Deciphering what another person is feeling will give you insight into how you can validate his feelings and connect with him on a deeper level.
3. Create platforms for feedback. When he was chairman and CEO of Cinergy, James E. Rogers gathered managers together for meetings that functioned as a group therapy session. Dubbed “listening sessions,” the discussions gave Rogers greater insight into what was happening inside of the organization.
You may not have the authority or the resources to organize large-scale talk ‘n share sessions, but there are some small, inexpensive ways in which you can create opportunities to learn more about customers or employees. Take your team out to dinner. Gauge customer satisfaction by organizing focus groups or sending out surveys. Peruse websites to see what people are saying about your product. Remember that you can’t receive feedback unless you give people opportunities to tell you what they think.
4. Express your appreciation. If someone takes time out of his day to speak with you, make sure you tell him how much you appreciate his contribution. Saying thank you isn’t just good manners; doing so can build credibility and establish a rapport, which will come in handy when you need more feedback.